Building trust in relationships and teams

The research on great teams has concluded that the key ingredient is psychological safety. That, to me, is just another word for trust. Great relationships and great teams are built on trust. If you’ve ever worked in a team which operated with 100% trust, you know what such experiences are like. They are a thing of beauty and are experiences you’ll cherish forever.

It turns out that there are no shortcuts for trust. Trust is predicated on knowledge and then understanding. We can claim to know someone when we know who they are and what their story is. We begin to understand them when we begin to understand how they make decisions and why they do what they do.

Building diverse teams, as a result, requires this investment. It needs to begin by taking the team out for a day or two and spending time understanding each other’s stories. No devices, no distractions, 100% presence. It is only after such a day that we can begin to understand how and why people operate the way they do. We hear stories we’ve never heard and find ourselves opening up to perspective that we’d never have considered. Only then are we ready to get work done. We have to go slow to go fast.

This sounds like a painfully intentional approach to building diverse teams. It is. Diverse teams are rarely built by accident. When that happens, it happens because the team members are stuck in the trenches – in very difficult situation that requires them to go through the same process under stress. Such situations often creates friends for life. The process of building and operating in a great teams isn’t different.

This process also speaks to why we naturally gravitate to building teams with people who are similar to us. It is easy to understand people who are similar to us. They share similar back stories, similar backgrounds and the process of understanding takes little effort. But, in my limited experience, such teams are the equivalent of getting five guitarists together. You may have a great jam session.

But, you rarely build a great band.

And, you never have a shot at being a part of an orchestra.

Defining trust

I love simple definitions and came across a fantastic one on trust on a friend’s blog yesterday. This friend’s post was inspired by a post by LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner –

Trust equals consistency over time. There’s no shortcut for either.

That is a fantastic definition – 100% true.

My only add would be that this definition illustrates beautifully the importance of integrity. Integrity is all about making and keeping commitments. This is so hard to do because of our propensity to make commitments we don’t intend to keep. It is only when we demonstrate integrity that we have the sort of consistency that builds trust.

There definitely are no shortcuts.

trust

The opposite of viral

I know a lot of content creators (bloggers, video creators, etc.) would love for a post to go viral. It is one of those fascinations when you start a blog or video channel and wonder what going viral might be like. It doesn’t help that you see all sorts of random content go viral and think – “Hang on a second, so much of my stuff is better/funnier/nicer/more meaningful, etc.”

After nearly 7 years/3365 posts, my learning has been to not hope for viral. In fact, I’d even say – dread viral; because viral brings fleeting fame and you don’t really want fleeting fame. You’ll find many who’ll show up to read that one post or watch that one video and simply go away. The spike in your analytics will soon be gone as well. Nothing tangible would have been built.

Instead, focus on slow organic growth (the keyword here is slow because it is incredibly slow). Delight one reader or viewer at a time. Over time, if you are lucky and good, you’ll find a small group of influential readers who begin spreading the word about your work. Now, instead of one reader, you’ll have two who show up every day. Then 3, then 4, and soon, it catches on. The nice thing about such growth is that you grow with your reputation. You learn how to build your video channel in a sustainable fashion and don’t resort to gimmicks. That builds trust and trust is how important things are built.

Viral, on the other hand, is devoid of trust and, as a result, a sham. You deserve better. Those whom you delight and serve deserve better too. So, if you are creating content, I wish you the opposite of viral. And, I wish you the strength and courage to keep at it for 10 years. Rome was not built in a day. Enron was.

Willing to meet someone half-way

If something goes wrong because of a mistake made by 2 people, the quickest remedies occur when both folks are willing to admit they made a mistake. “Sorry, I screwed up. What do we need to do to fix it?”

However, most large corporations make a game of this. Instead of using mistakes as an opportunity to reflect and get better, they start playing the blame game. That’s how we build an environment with decreasing trust levels since people are afraid to apologize on an email because they believe it’ll be taken out of context. It is a legitimate fear.

However, it also serves as a great test for a team’s culture – how willing is someone on the team to meet someone else at the half way mark? How willing are 2 people on the team to look others in the eye and say – “Sorry, we screwed up. And we’re going to work hard to fix it.”

Perhaps that ought to be the trust marker as we build our own teams. Great relationships are made of people willing to meet the other half-way. Great teams are no different.

Showing up for meetings and being punctual

When I think of the various differences in culture in the many working environments around the world, there’s one that stands out. The more developed a country, the more showing up for meetings and being punctual was part of the culture. While this was religion in the more Germanic parts of the world, this was definitely optional in India (for example) versus China. As a result, calendars and organization only worked well in the more organized countries.

Or, to put it differently, calendars and organization were part of the culture in places that seemed to need it least. And, this was much less an individual trait as it was a cultural trait. The Japanese just have their proverbial “shit together.” “That’s just what we do in Japan” is all they would say. And, if we want to go one step further, I’d say that the next measure of development is the culture of preparation; the more developed and organized a culture, the more you can be sure your pre-reads will have been read. My guess is that this ability to constantly demonstrate integrity (or the ability to make and keep commitments) raises the trust levels and this, in turn, makes work environments better.

It has a powerful personal implication – our ability to consistently make commitments, be organized, prepare, and show up punctually to keep these commitments is what defines our development.

The small things are the big things.

Building Help2Grow.org – a series

When a few close friends and I met on a saturday evening last year, our discussion centred for a long time on the best way to give to those less privileged than us. We had all tried multiple methods – volunteering our time, giving to charities, and a fair bit of micro-lending. And, we were still discontented. I think it was because we felt we could do it better but didn’t know how. We were all intent to do this back in India as we had all grown up seeing the challenges the underprivileged face and we wanted to do our bit to make it better.

That conversation in early September last year was when Help2Grow.org was really founded in my opinion. Conversations can be truly momentous in retrospect.

A few weeks later, another friend shared some of the charitable volunteer work he did on a Whatsapp group that we all are part of and we jumped at the opportunity to further the discussion. “Why not start our own charity?” – we thought. And we did.

We had 2 challenges in the pre-formal-founding days that we never expected. The first was picking a name. We put all the pressure on our volunteer friend and shoved what must have been close to 200 possibilities  at him – again, over Whatsapp – technology really is amazing. After being stuck in the “we need a name” phase for a week, a couple of us decided we just had to hammer it down. So, the final name was picked and we were ready. Learning – many teams tell wonderful stories of how they spoke of a name and how it just “clicked.” We didn’t have any such luck. We were mentally and emotionally tired of the naming process and decided it was time to pick and focus our energies on making a difference. And, guess what, we love our name!

The next challenge involved getting the India wing of the team together for the formal registration. We wanted 3 team members to sign the trust deed and, somehow, one thing or the other seemed to come up in the last minute leading to a postponement. Initially, there were whispers of this being the universe’s way of telling us what the “right” time would be (or fate). After a month of dithering, we decided it was probably not fate but the resistance. So, we promptly got it done. Learning: Yes, there are times in life when, no matter what we do, life seems intent on executing other plans. However, that is not always the case. It is also up to us to keep pushing to test the limits.

We then navigated our way through the registration and began working towards our first meeting. We had 14 people interested, had registered a charitable trust, created a bank account, and were all set to go.

But, where?

That’s the story I’d like to share with you. It’s a story that is still being written and, most importantly, it’s a story that might not work. This isn’t a series about how to build a successful charitable trust – this is a series about our attempts at building a charitable trust that will last a 100 years. I’d like to take you through our process, failures, occasional successes and learning through the process. One of our core values is to “be transparent about why we do what we do” – so I’d also like to share our intent, dreams, and plans. Help2Grow.org is about giving to the community and there are many ways to give. We’re hopeful sharing these learnings will help too.


 

This blog post has also been posted on the Help2Grow.org blog.