Is it possible to increase trust and maintain a positive environment within a team? If so, how do we make it happen?
First of all, positive feelings in a team often depend on the maturity of that team. A mature team has built experience of facing problems together, especially unexpected and inconvenient ones, and team members are willing to speak up, with respect and mutual recognition. This only happens when team members are confident that problems will be tackled together, that other people in the team will be supportive, that when mistakes are made, someone will own it and everything possible will be done to find a solution. All this helps to create a positive environment.
At Commitment, we are often called to work on issues of trust in client teams – trust is another essential for a good team climate.
When something goes wrong in a team, sometimes the cause is objective issues e.g. problems related to the company or business, conflicting goals of individuals versus team, unreasonable organisational requests. These issues cause stress and conflict, and certainly do not help with building trust.
Where trust exists between team members, we see them achieving otherwise unattainable results, because they feel good and so they work better together.
But what does “trust” mean? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “Firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something”. So trust is based on a subjective evaluation, not necessarily linked to any facts, for example: “I trust you because I know (or I hope) that you did x / did not do y / will not hurt me!”. Despite the uncertainty and partiality, this subjective evaluation often takes priority and leads to disappointment and delusion.
So how can we avoid this? What tools does a team need to successfully deal with problems in a way that doesn’t sacrifice personal relationships?
A simple and effective tool to overcome misunderstandings and conflict within a team is the regular use of feedback. Feedback processes allow the people involved to operate in a field where the rules of engagement, communication and listening are clear and shared. Some caution is needed – feedback is NOT just saying everything you think of another person, at all times – this is just venting and nothing more. Feedback is instead a ritual, with precise rules that must be respected.
The first rule of feedback is to ask for a permission: “May I tell you something?” This is like knocking on someone’s door and asking the owner if you can come in.
The second rule is contextualisation: constructive feedback (especially if negative) stems from the observation of behaviours, attitudes, concrete actions. For example, “Your behaviour during the last meeting had this consequence”.
The third rule is to pick an appropriate time and place, so that you can both talk calmly.
The fourth rule is respect. Reciprocity, empathic listening and recognising the viewpoint of others are other fundamental elements here, so that ideas, contributions and messages reach their destination in a spirit of mutual respect.
So when should we use feedback? Ideally often and whenever needed, for example with staff during debriefings, in regular meetings, when aligning teams and so on. Feedback on its own won’t solve all the problems of a team but it can certainly allow the group to face real organisational challenges without falling into the traps of unmanaged emotions, of positions taken out of spite or principle. Feedback is one of the most intelligent and concrete ways to face and overcome problems, even when you think you have an enemy before you. We see surprising positive results in our clients where there is a focus on feedback and good communication. Seeing is believing.
Good feedback to everyone.