How Teams Learn To Trust Each Other

Every app that I help make at Bottle Rocket always has a certain moment in the project. It may come on day one of work, day one-hundred, or the day we ship. It’s uncomfortable acknowledge the day when it arrives, even though we all know it’s coming. At some point, the day will come when everyone on the team looks at each other with an expression that communicates, “can we really do this?”

We have to decide if we can really trust each other in that moment of discomfort.

Said moment will be met with all sorts of reactions. One would assume that teams with a longer track record would have a more relaxed response, but that’s not always the case. Each member of your team brings their own personal experience with trust and will hold every future team responsible for previous wounds.

You might also assume that experienced teams would see this moment coming from a mile away, which should help. Knowledge isn’t the answer, though, because without a certain motivation to push forward there is little to be done with facts.

So, I’m a victim of old hurt armed with all of the knowledge under the sun. It’s still not enough?

To answer, I’d like to present three different TED talks on the subject with some key takeaways for that moment when you need to band together as a team. Please let me introduce you to Charles Hazlewood, Simon Sinek, and Esther Perel.

You can’t control the situation

Hazlewood is an orchestral conductor, a position that exudes control better than almost any other. Every gesture, movement, and facial tick should result in the hundred or so people before him obeying. To create a singular sound from that many people, I would have thought a conductor needs to drill every sense of individuality out of each chair.

And I would be dead wrong.

The British native would vehemently disagree with my assumption by describing a moment I have felt many times. “When you are in the position of not trusting, you over-compensate,” he said. Hazlewood asserts that people resort to this type of leadership because they are trying to insert themselves artificially into situations. This creates fear, the greatest byproduct of a lack of trust.

So if I’m unsure of those around me, fear consumes my entire being. What did a man who has led the playing of music around the world do? He found a way to let go.

“You can drill every single nuance into a team,” Hazlewood said. “It would be precise and it would be accurate, but it wouldn’t have any life because it wouldn’t be truthful work.”

The work referenced is standing in front of you every morning during stand ups. To get the best out of them, we must lighten up on the reigns.

Leaders go first

Sinek is known far and wide across a variety of industries simply because he was willing to ask why. The Ogilvy & Mather veteran made the golden circle mandatory reading and now teaches us all how to be better leaders (in full disclosure, Bottle Rocket is owned by O&M parent company WPP). In his estimation, where would you say the Wimbeldon native trust comes from?

In a word: safety.

Trust is a feeling, which means it is arbitrarily assigned to individuals. We look at someone, have a brief conversation with, or read up on, and decide right then if we have something in common with that person. If we do, we feel safe.

“When we feel safe,” Sinek said, “trust will emerge.

As much as we can all agree with this sentiment, it can be very tough to artificially manufacture safety when the clock is ticking on teams. What am I to do in those situations?

Demonstrate trust first.

“The reason we call someone ‘leader’ is because they choose to go first,” he said. “They choose to extend trust first before there are any signs that they should.”

It’s a challenge to communicate this to my peers, because of the previous wounds referenced earlier. Our jobs are all on the line to deliver, after all. The benefit of trusting first, though, can help create a sense of safety in our teams that control could never achieve.

Make room for a new kind truth

Perel is a psychologist who has dedicated much of her career to researching and understanding infidelity in marriages. She became fascinated with the idea when she realized it was a paradox. Affairs are universally condemned and as the same time universally practiced. It’s also traditionally thought of as the end of the relationship.

The Belgan native finds that when infidelity is discovered, there is a moment much like I described in my opening. You realize something has occured, and you wonder if you can ever trust again. It creates a questioning nature about everything. What if you can learn to see past the event, though? Can you really repair trust in relationships?

Perel thinks so.

“The trust that is rebuilt is different than the trust had before,” she said. “It will be a more mature trust, rooted in reality.”

After working with couples in New York City for over 30 years, Perel describes couples before trust is lost as having a certain kind of naivety. By maintaining a status quo that may not have been working well in the first place, you don’t quite know your partner fully. Afterwards, couples can see each other more fully and decide to most on together.

“They have to move from, ‘what you did to me,'” she said,  “to, ‘what happened when we went through this together.'”

I think our teams would benefit from this type of mature relationship. Rather than a status quo of pretending nobody ever makes mistakes, we acknowledge that they will happen eventually. It doesn’t matter who makes them, or when they are made. Instead, simply look to see how we can learn together.

It’s a new truth that I think we must all have on teams today.

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