Schiphol airport, Hilton hotel, Executive board off site meeting, 9.30 am, 2010.
I am facilitating a board team meeting for a renowned company in the first phase of their transition process to finding new forms of leadership and business models for a fast changing technologically focussed world. The objective of this off site meeting is to create a common purpose, vision and approach to leading the organization through this change. The board is a new formed constellation. Many workshops have been planned for after this session to engage and train all the company managers in the appropriate new skills as well catalyze a mind-set to lead this change effectively.
Breaking the ice (creating a space of warmth, humour and willingness )
We have just introduced ourselves to each other in a rather fresh and unlikely manner for most people, using animals as a metaphor for whom we are to describe our own personality character traits so as to get to know each other more. The CEO chose the rabbit, hence he noted that one just ran by outside on the small patch of grass outside the window of the room and we all had a slight laugh when he spontaneously mentioned this and the ice then began to smelt so the ‘real work’ could begin of tackling how to move the team forward. Then we moved on to the objective of the off site session and I gave the floor to the team. In the diagnostic phase when all board members were interviewed I got to understand that the history of the company has been one of success and yet also one of antagonism with divisions fighting each other and distrusting each other to some degree. The change process to be lead and managed is expected to be difficult with a lot of resistance to new ways of thinking and working. Most managers are not so technically orientated by nature. Aspirations to collaborate more instead of competing with each other are not also not yet in the foreground. The rest of the organization did not welcome most of the board members chosen and there was quite some power play going on as to who would be on the board of course and some uneasiness and trust issues with each other too.
The uneasiness of discomfort and the courage it takes to deal with it
In the round of comments been made on the themes to be addressed in this particular kick off site session, one board member (who was brave enough) said: “ I feel that trust is a issue in our team” and across from me I saw the CEO as well as other team members cringe a little bit when it came out into the open air through his voice. The CEO responded with a slight uncomfortable frown on his face and said, “trust is such a fuzzy thing and difficult to address, I don’t know if we should go into this”. I consequently nodded affirmatively to reduce the uneasiness in the group and we moved on. Two years later the CEO had left, three years later, the whole team had dissolved and fours years later the company has been taken over by another concern.
The bigger question that came to me
Could this of worked out differently if I had the courage then to guide them through the very theme of trust at that moment in time? Perhaps so and after some further years of experience in facilitating and coaching (executive) teams and managers follows here below my insights as to why trust is important, what it actually is and how to (re) build it for the good of your company, your colleagues, team and yourself.
Why is trust important?
Trust is a pricy matter, Covey holds a business case for the speed of trust saying that without it you can get some degree of work done, but with it, you can get so much more done effectively and so much quicker as he explains in his book, The speed of trust. Trust is not a fuzzy matter once you understand what it is, how it is built up and how it gets broken (down) and most essentially what your own role in trust is and could be to build it up and if broken down re-establish it.
What I have come to realize in the past six years is that one of my primary roles in facilitating (executive board) teams is to help them (re) build the level of trust (and bonding) so that they can get down to their primary business role, i.e. gain return on investments for their shareholders as quickly as possible and ensure the continuity of their business to feed the families working for them all in the process of delivering superb quality products and services to their customers.
So what is trust and how does it affect & impact us?
It is some kind of feeling that you find difficult to describe, quite often located somewhere in your stomach area that generates a sense of comfort and safety when it is there. You feel that you can rely on the other to do/be good for you.
Distrust or the lack of trust is the feeling and/or sense of discomfort. It is an unsafe feeling. It is a sense of apprehension to be able to fully rely on another person and/or team/group. You have this sixth sense that you cannot fully rely on the honesty, consistency and/or goodness of the other and that they are more out there to protect themselves and rather go for their own personal gain than to help you (and your teams). You sense, feel and/or think that the other person might have a negative, harmful and/or disadvantageous impact on you (and your team, division) for some reason or other and that it is better to be cautious when around them and keep your distance and/or control them.
So how does this lack of trust happen? Baggage from the past
What has happened in past interactions with others, often influences how we look and approach the future. The degree to which you feel disappointed by someone you have trusted in the past might impact how much you trust anyone in the present and future. The degree to which you depend on someone and they let you down makes it difficult for most people to see it as an isolated incident and they will assume that others might or will do the same, even if they very different people and the context is very different. If someone happens to resemble someone else in terms of appearance, thoughts, behaviour, we tend to very easily link this subconsciously to the person in the past with whom we had a negative, disappointing or positive experience and assume this will happen again, even though this is another person, who is not part of our past. We tend to copy and paste continuously even though people are all separate individuals with a unique mind map of their own and circumstances and context are often quite different. Our presumptions then determine our behaviour; we will more often than not be cautious, controlling and/or distant to some extreme when we have had negative impact experiences in trusting others.
So what, now what? What does is take?
Step 1 is to become aware of the potential feeling of a lack of trust within you in relationship to (an)other(s) or vice versa you notice this in (an)other(s) towards you. The whole art is to acknowledge this graciously to yourself without judging yourself for it. It is a human protective response that comes from us. It is also a brave gesture to admit to this feeling without being judgemental to yourself or the other and understand for yourself why this is taking place. What has the person done objectively, what are the facts? What perhaps in this person reminds you of some other negative experience you had with someone else? So some introspective work needs to take place here from an inquisitive inquiring space within yourself.
Step 2 is to consider if you want to (re) build it and how important this other person is for your success and well being. Both choices have consequences. If you want to (re) build it, it will take a committed choice/investment emotionally from your side as well as a certain amount of vulnerability with an inquisitive responsible mind-set, it takes two to tango to make this work. You will have to be prepared to open up and listen to not only yourself but the other party too and be prepared to make adjustments in your own thought patterns and behaviour where necessary to rebuild up trust as to somewhere meet the needs of the other party involved.
If you do not want to (re) build it, the consequence will be that the working relationship either comes to an end and you can do without the other person; or that everything you do will cost more time and effort as you will be controlling more and holding up your own guard continuously which will even cost more effort and energy.
Step 3 is perhaps the most brave of all. You are willing and are going to share the elements of lack of trust with the other involved with the sense of purpose to (re) build it, together, but starting from you. This requires a certain amount of emotional intelligence on both sides of the table to handle the conversation constructively and a facilitator can be helpful for this part of the journey.
What interventions work to (re) build trust? What can you do or ask someone to facilitate in?
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen said Harry S. Truman. But, (said Natasha) your meal will not be cooked!
- Opening up, honesty, disclosure, sharing, being vocal, vulnerability, respect
Sharing and speaking out your own thoughts and needs creates a space of openness in which another can respond. Using the “I’ word here is crucial. I sense…, I feel…., I need…., I would like for us to work together in a more effective way etc.
When this is in a tone of respect (for yourself and for the other) and from the assumption that no one is perfect (not you, nor the other) and that we are all human beings with human needs to be valued and trusted, a space begins to evolve of willingness to share and to (start) trust(ing).
- Accepting responsibility with humility and interdependency
Realizing that trust or lack of is a (sub) conscious choice that you yourself make is important. Taking responsibility for the way you look, feel and behave toward someone else is crucial. No matter how another person responds, it is always a choice how you will respond. Having chosen not to trust may be valid or not, it is however always a choice you make. One that may hinder a partnership to some degree if you are dependent on the work of the other. The more you are in a position where you have to rely on the work of others as you cannot do or know everything everything yourself, or you are not always in a position to appoint others you would prefer to work with, the more important it is to be aware of your level of trust in the other.
- Wanting to be successful together
Nothing bonds more than establishing a common purpose and passion and finding ways how to achieve that together successfully. Having a common purpose, passion, ambition and vision in mind all the time is the safety net to have these courageous conversations. To be able to speak about what is getting in the way of being successful together creates a natural bonding in itself. Realizing that you need the other, the sense of interdependency and aspiring to wanting it to be successful helps take the heaviness and fear out of discussing issues around trust to the point in which you can talk about what you need from the other in terms of behaviour. Consistent behaviour feeds trust, not unpredictable behaviour. So a simple need could be that you request your colleague to follow up on your mails and respond consistently within three days instead of sometimes not responding at all or two weeks later. Or a reminder what your common purpose, passion and ambition is and what behaviour is discouraging to achieving the success you both want.
- Looking for similarities more than differences, common ground, vision and purpose
When people resemble our own thoughts, beliefs, values and sometimes also our outer appearances we tend to trust them subconsciously more easily. So by looking for resemblance in the other, where you share the same ideas, beliefs, and purpose beyond first made assumptions of evident differences, helps to enhance a feeling of trust. What we recognize as that of ourselves we trust easier than apparent differences. Embracing diversity, that others may seem, think, act and feel different and at the same time enquiring to what you have in common is a good way to approach others.
- Realizing that the past is not the future and you have choice to let go and give someone a (second) chance
Having a belief that people can change if they want to, that their habbits can die, their viewpoint and mindset is fluid and does not neccessarly have to be fixed is a starting point to giving people a second chance. Of course this needs to be done consciously and in contact with the other so it is not a one sided affair.
Other realizations that can be catalyzed:
- Trust is not static, it moves between more and less trust continuously and that is ok. It is continuous work in progress, it is a proactive verb just like love is.
- Bridging is a great skill that leads to bonding and trust
- Humor, light heartedness and relativity help
- ·Being comfortable with discomfort and not brushing it away, staying in the heat of the moment is what is takes to make things paradoxically move forward in a constructive way
- Values and behaviours that show up like consistency, congruency, coherence and seeking common ground are magic ingredients to put more trust into any interaction
Trust is a journey that starts with you, your courage and willingness to want to build trustful relationships for the greater good of your company, your team and yourself. A first step in this courage is to reflect, be honest and don’t forget to ask a good facilitator to help you and your team every now and then take their trust to the next level! Let me know where I can be of help, as I believe that all success is defined by the quality of our relationships and this begins with (re) building trust.
Enjoy your journey!
Natasha van Dalen
Tel: 0031 6 54945213
Where person is mentioned, group and/or team could replace this. For the simplicity of reading ‘person’ is used.