106% more energy, 50% higher profits: Here’s why trust matters between team members and 5 ways to get it right
Communal gardens. Connecting for success. And employees with 106% more energy. When we talk about trust in organisations, we usually only focus on trying to get employees to trust the company. But there’s so much evidence to suggest that social connection, respect and trust among team members is just as important in driving good businesses to become great. So, in this post, let’s focus on building trust in teams specifically.
WHY IS TRUST IN A TEAM SO IMPORTANT?
First off, a lack of trust amongst teams and employees is one of the biggest issues most companies – especially in South Africa – face today. “I have an exercise that I do separately with the staff of the company whenever I get called in, and I do it even before I go to meet with the management,” says Dr Cobus Oosthuizen (PhD in Human Behaviour), founder of LifeXchange Solutions. “And it helps met pinpoint within 5 minutes what the ‘real issue’ is.
“And in 90% of the companies where you have low work performance, low productivity, incivility, high staff turnover rate, low morale etc. the problem is a lack of trust. People feel they can’t trust their managers and leadership, the can’t trust the company, and they often can’t trust each other.
“The thing is that trust is the basis for all the behaviours that you want in the workplace. Trust leads to independent thinking, creativity, the courage and willingness to take on tasks, self-management – everything you need to really grow your company relies on the level of trust in your teams.”
And it’s true trust is the foundation of every major human behavioural development model: See Trust as the number one point in Erikson’s Theory of human development, it’s a crucial ingredient in creating the vital sense of Belonging in the Circle of Courage theory, and it’s the first step towards creating the Connection that leads to competence, responsibility and purpose, according to the Human Development Cycle.
SCIENTIFIC STUDIES SHOW TRUST IN TEAMS REALLY WORKS
In her 1999 study into the psychology of performance and learning behaviour among teams, Amy Edmondson found that the level of trust in a team directly impacts its ability to perform. When trust is low “…energy and creativity are diverted from finding comprehensive, realistic solutions …” Instead, team members become vulnerable and afraid to try new things (for fear of judgment or punishment).
A 2015 study on workplace trust by Sarah Brown et al confirms the link between trust and productivity. And the 10+ years of trust research by Paul J Zak not only showed that we can gauge the level of trust in teams by measuring the “trust hormone” oxytocin in their brains (published in 2005 in Nature.com) but his team’s own measurements showed that in high-trust companies employees were 74% less stressed, 76% more engaged, brought 106% more energy to work, took 13% fewer sick days and – importantly – boosted profits by 50%
Sound like you need more trust between your employees? Here’s how to do it:
5 WAYS TO BUILD TRUST IN YOUR TEAMS
1. FOCUS ON CREATING SOCIAL CONNECTIONS
For over a decade studies have been showing that it’s not personal skill, talent or even the amount of money you pay an employee that drives productivity (see the weird science behind employee motivation). Instead, what drives productivity and success is the quality of social connections that form between people.
It’s called social capital, and time and again it has proven way more effective at increasing performance within a company. WATCH: Entrepreneur and CEO Margaret Heffernan’s message about the power of social connections at work:
Connection-building initiatives like synchronised lunchtimes and coffee breaks (to get people talking) and communal garden spaces where people can connect with others outside of their immediate team have proven hugely successful. But the key is to drive these things on a company management level: invest in things that give your employees a chance to connect.
(Note: They’re going to connect anyway, that’s what people do. Taking ownership of the responsibility to allow connection is leadership’s role, it’s what will make the difference between whether employees connect over positive things like their shared responsibility and creativity, or whether they’ll connect over the negatives – like ganging up against company management, for example.)
And, also, allow them time to connect.
2. ALLOW TRUST TO DEVELOP OVER TIME
One of the most important things to realise about trust is that there are levels to it. We will put a basic level of trust in people, but it can get a little complicated: When you order a sandwich, you’re showing trust in the restaurant’s ability to deliver a meal that won’t give you food poisoning. But you probably won’t entrust the waiter with your deepest, darkest secret.
That’s because real trust takes time to develop. And that’s why a quick team-building exercise usually doesn’t have long-term effects. Trust is part of the vital connection between people, and that’s why it needs to be long term: It needs to be woven into the fabric of your company.
For more on trust and connection, check out the vital team and behaviour info our Human Development Cycle.
3. CREATE HEALTHY “CHALLENGE STRESS”
Paul Zak found that assigning a team a challenging but achievable goal releases chemicals in the brain that increases their focus and strengthens social connections. The important thing here is that the goal is achievable and it has a definite endpoint. Unrealistic goals, or vague ones with no clearly definable end or measurement, does the exact opposite.
Ok, we know that you need to push your teams, though. Every challenge can’t be easy. But there is a science behind goals and goal-setting, and also how you deliver it to your people. Check out our podcasts on the subject in the energise your life series. And we at LifeXChange Solutions can even show how to make impossible-seeming goals achievable – see Dr Cobus and the backwards brain bike.
And remember, humans have a natural reflex where we push back against coercion and authority called mental pushback. And we at LifeXchange have the methods to get over that, so get more co-operation in willingness form teams to take part in challenges – it has to do with helping individuals find their own significance in every task. And we’re always happy to help: you can contact us or read more on our organisational development solutions.
4. TALK ABOUT TRUST OPENLY
Here’s an interesting idea: If trust is a problem because a lack of it increases people’s fear (of trying things, of retribution, of shame etc.), why not take the lead and address the elephant in the room directly?
Try creating an open forum, where everyone can get together to discuss fear and trust. At first, people will probably be too afraid to really open up about how they feel – which itself confirms that there’s a culture of fear in the company. But, with time, if you show people that there’s no retribution or judgment for speaking up, and if you, as management, protect individuals in your team, you could take some amazing first steps towards turning fear into trust.
Especially if you learn from the forums and adapt and make visible changes, so people feel seen and heard. And then encourage them to talk about their fears with colleagues, too.
PS: A great place to start is to change the habit of naming and shaming employees for their mistakes (sadly, a big part of many companies’ culture today). That erodes trust. What if you can change everyone’s outlook, to make every mistake an opportunity to learn instead?
5. CREATE A CULTURE OF TRUST
Don’t think too small. The bigger and bolder you think about moving toward trust, the more likely you’ll see the change (and real growth) faster. Creating trust among your employees and teams is only one small aspect of trust in organisations.
BONUS: BUILD UNDERSTANDING AND ENGAGEMENT USING TEAM STRENGTHS
One of the main reasons trust is so effective at boosting productivity and performance, is that it helps boost your employee engagement. And one of the coolest ways to really supercharge engagement is to develop your people based on their strengths – it helps teams bond, build trust and get to know each other’s way of thinking by knowing each person’s strengths.
“I learned a valuable communication lesson through our strengths session with LifeXchange,” says Nico Smuts, development manager at Goede Hoop Citrus. “ I learned that we have different communication styles, and then we were able to adjust our comms with each other. So. now I feel we can work much more effectively together. It’s amazing.”
Discover it for yourself and your team: See our strengths-based development.
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