Trustworthiness and Teams

This post was co-authored by Sandy Styer and Noelle Mykolenko.

Trust is paramount to collaboration. In a team setting, we are called on to build trust with multiple people at once. This adds complexity because any action we take to create trust with one person may be closely viewed (and interpreted) by others with whom we are not directly interacting.

Core to of our way of thinking about trustworthiness is the Trust Equation, which describes trustworthiness through the four components of Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-Orientation. (Take our online Trust Quotient Self-assessment to see your trustworthiness strengths and opportunities.)

Applying the Trust Equation in a Team Setting

Some actions that demonstrate trustworthiness are particularly useful for the complexities of a team setting. Here are four specific ways to build trust and further collaboration in teams:

CREDIBILITY: When the team is first assembled, go beyond the usual organization-focused introductions [“I’m Jane Smith, a SR PM in the RV Division.”] and have each team member say something about what they bring to the group and what they hope the project outcomes will be. We believe in people whom we know something about; resume headlines are a weak form of credibility.

RELIABILITY: Be predictable and dependable in context of the team’s goals and culture. When you turn in a piece of work, refer back to the master schedule and how your piece relates. Adopt team norms and use common language (jargon and acronyms). Be consistent in how you interact with all team members, staying especially alert to actions that could be perceived as special treatment – favorable or unfavorable – based on role or organizational differences.

INTIMACY: When someone starts a call with: “So, how was everyone’s weekend?” really share something: “We had so much fun; my 5 year old daughter played T-ball in the back yard, and she was hilarious whacking at the ball and running around the bases.” We trust those who are willing to take the small personal risk of revealing something about themselves; encourage it through role-modeling and asking open-ended questions that can’t be easily answered by a simple “fine” or “ok.”

This goes for bad news too.  Be open about blocks you’re running into or delays you’re facing. It builds trust to admit something like “I’m struggling to identify the target audience is for this piece, which makes it hard to write.  Could we get consensus on this call?”  Such an admission also may be the best way to get the help you want and deserve.

SELF-ORIENTATION: When you’re with the group, be relentlessly present. Avoid multi-tasking, no matter how pressing your deadlines are or how relevant you think the conversation is to your area. Be equally attuned to opportunities for you to help other team members as you are for how they can contribute to the outcomes for which you are personally responsible.

When we work in teams, it’s easy to over-focus on our own outcomes, and in so doing we sometimes forget that the people with whom we’re working are people, and not just a means to our end.

A Virtual Wrench in the (Team)works

Today, whether it’s due to globalization or a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many more of us are working on virtual teams.

When we interact with others face-to-face, we send and receive all kinds of clues and indicators that help us assess trustworthiness, and by which we can show others they can trust us. Casual encounters in the hallway, tone of voice and body language, and small daily experiences all contribute to building trust. Face-to-face is high-bandwidth trust time.

With so much of the world now working in virtual teams, building trust among the members of a team who don’t look one another in the eye or share coffee every morning is an added challenge. See our recent blogpost about building trust in virtual settings.

While there are differences between working face to face in a team and working virtually, the practices in this blog post are effective for either situation. All of them revolve around remembering that we are part of a team that consists of other very real people, individuals in their own right who have contributions to make and goals to achieve.

 

Building Trust In A Crisis



Pandemic. Covid-19. Unprecedented. New normal…

… You can write the rest of this paragraph yourself – things have changed. Is there anything left to be written about it all?

Yes there is. It’s about trust. In particular – how do you manage interpersonal trust in professional relationships?  How have trust dynamics changed in working with and selling to clients? What about trust in management and leadership?

For over 20 years, Trusted Advisor Associates has helped professionals deepen trust with clients and colleagues. We built this page to share our most-relevant thinking on navigating trust in professional relationships during the current crisis.

Click on Areas of focus:



Emotional Components of Trust

In normal times, the emotional aspects of trustworthiness (Intimacy and Self orientation) are slightly more powerful than the non-emotional traits (Credibility & Reliability) See The Trust Equation to learn more.

Now, the importance of those emotional components is multiples more – since the overwhelming response to a crisis like this is an emotional one. Broadly speaking, we need to manage our Self-orientation and increase our Intimacy.

Self orientation

Your self-orientation is likely to be high right now, whether you realize it or not. On the other hand – so is everyone else’s.

We recognize – and will remember – those who are able to genuinely reach out beyond their own psyches and connect with others in such times.

Grant yourself the grace to realize that things are different . Recognize and acknowledge what you are experiencing, and manage your Self-orientation moving forward.

Resources

Intimacy & Empathy

Everyone deals with stress in their own way. You are unique – and so is everyone else.

Remember the acronym, N.A.P.A.L.M.: Not All People Are Like Me. Others’ experiences are likely to be different from yours, even if their circumstances appear to be similar.

In times of stress, empathy is rare: at the same time, it’s vastly more valuable.  The ability to truly understand (while not necessarily agreeing with) the other person’s situation creates emotional safety, or Intimacy, for the other person. And Intimacy was already the most important factor in the Trust Equation.

Resources



Virtual Communication & Leadership

The hallmark of the COVID-19 crisis is that it requires physical distancing. It raises to the forefront the question: How do you create trust at a distance? Those who figure that out now will be appreciated, effective, and successful going forward.

Resources

Above All Else…

Trust is personal. Organizations don’t build trust, people do.

Let us know what you’re experiencing, and how we can help the people in your organization build trust in these times of change. Please reach out. We look forward to the conversation.

Podcast Interview: The Importance of Trust in Remote Leadership

Richard Hsu, Director of the Partner Practice Group, interviews Charles H. Green, on the HSU Untied Podcast, for a deep dive discussion into how leaders can refine their trust and communication skills in this new, virtual business world.

Learn how to connect with and read your team better, virtually. Understand how Intimacy and Self orientation are more important than ever.

When It Really Is “Me, Not You”

We’ve all seen the movies, or worse still, possibly heard the words – “it’s not you, it’s me.”

A dramatic break up scene follows. We’re left in no doubt that the ‘you’ in the scenario was a) badly dealt with, and b) probably better off in the long run given that scoundrel ‘me,’ who is typically using the line as a cheap and insincere way to get out of the relationship.

But what if it’s true?

And what does that ‘breakup’ look like in the context of a business relationship? Many of us have had challenging client situations and relationships that just felt dysfunctional. And all too often we let ourselves believe that it is the other who is the problem, not our selves. The internal dialogue becomes “It’s not me – it’s you!”

It’s the reversal of the movie plot of the relationship breakdown. We start the blame game and potentially lose sight of what really happened. (And after all, what are business relationships other than just relationships with business as the context?).

My own “it really was me” moment played out over a year of frantic project delivery for a client with tight deadlines and ambitious goals; it involved a lot of shouting, mutual frustration and ultimately a breakup. Sound familiar?

I was saved from the worst of the blame game by a very astute new analyst in my consulting firm, who unknowingly helped bring the Trust Equation even more alive for me.

Was It Me or Was It Them?

I was a big advocate of the Trusted Advisor approach, and in fact had taught the material to many people over the years. I had a story for each aspect of Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self Orientation. The stories were the stuff of legends (in my own mind) and I could retell them with ease.

There was one – my go-to story – about ‘the challenging client and the breakup’ that I loved telling new hires. It had shock value and impact, and often provoked great discussion on the importance of balance in the trust equation. The story could last five minutes or 25 depending on the audience and the nuances added, but always ended, “….and that is how the client ruined our trusted relationship!”

That punchline came to an ignominious end one afternoon in a session with students in Kuala Lumpur. I had talked about how to demonstrate credibility with new ideas, reliability with delivery, and intimacy through shared experiences. After I went through my final go-to story about the client’s Self-orientation, an analyst put her hand up and asked, “You’ve talked a lot about what was in it for the client, but what did you want to get out of the relationship and project?”

A great question – and one I’d never examined. I knew I hadn’t enjoyed the project (successful though it was), and I knew the client was annoyed with me at the end (again, despite the good results) – but I’d never really examined the why. I had just thought “difficult client, next assignment please.”

Her next question went deeper. “It sounds like you just wanted to get off that project and didn’t care what happened to the client.” Ouch!

The Penny Drops – It Was Me After All

That evening I played back my own recollection of events. I realised that on at least three occasions I had thought only of my own objectives. First, I had wanted the project to be a success for me; I was looking for a promotion. Next, I had omitted inviting the client to a presentation we were making to their Board (the person was on holiday, but I could have asked them regardless). Finally, I had just wanted off the project – after all, it had been draining and challenging.

None of these instances may have been showstoppers on their own, but combined it meant my self-orientation was so poor that the client would had to have been made of stone not to distrust me. All those great results, all that thought leadership and intimacy had been slowly eroded by me wanting to achieve my goals – not theirs. The relationship had begun to break down – and all at the same time my inner voice was telling me, “It’s them not you!”

What a wake-up call for me, three years of believing they were the problem!

The next time I delivered the Trusted Advisor session the story hadn’t changed – but the punchline had. Instead of the casting the client as villain and me as the poor beaten up consultant, my conclusion was, “And this is how my self-orientation ruined a perfectly good trusted relationship.”

From time to time I still see that client in airports. We both acknowledge that it was a tough assignment, but we both know now that “It wasn’t you, it was me!” isn’t just a line in the movies. It’s real. And unlike in the movies, sometimes it’s really true.