In team or leadership development processes we sometimes ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being low and 10 high, how eager are you to get to work in the morning?” Although we do not ask this as a climate test, it actually can serve that purpose. When the rating is high, the climate is sure to be warm; the team feels like home where one does not have to keep up their guard. It is a place people want to be.
When there is a healthy climate there is trust and respect, the two traits that are most consistently identified in our research as most critical to effective teamwork. In a healthy climate one trusts that if they offer feedback that it will be taken as it was intended: to help or make things better. When one receives feedback, they trust that it is given with the same positive intent. Individual differences as to personality type and style are accepted and respected. Everyone is not expected to fit a mold that is determined by a small power group. If someone has a need they know they can ask. If the individual approached does not provide the required assistance they trust it is because the person is unable to help at the time. If someone has a question they trust they can ask without being perceived as incompetent. Team members see caring for and supporting one another as part of being a team member and something that adds to the fulfillment of the job. A warm, healthy organizational climate both energizes and sooths those who live in it
When a group is fortunate enough to have a bond of trust among its members, that level of trust can be taken for granted. Like all health whether it be a healthy body, healthy friendship or healthy team, attention is required to ensure the level of health is maintained. Maintenance of a trusting environment requires being aware of disagreements that could lead to conflict and working through them before relationships deteriorate. Ideally team members take this responsibility themselves and in a well-developed team will do so. If the team is not yet at this stage the leader must be tuned in to how people are interacting and address issues immediately before they escalate. Too often these are seen as the little “things” and ignored because of more pressing issues but the little “things” can quickly accumulate and turn a good team into a mediocre group.
Building trust in an unhealthy climate in which group members are wary of one another is more challenging. In addition, trust does not just happen, it grows. Like most things, trust must be given in order to be received. We must give trust if we expect to get trust. But trusting requires risk taking and as Shakespeare would have said, “There’s the rub.” What is the risk if we bring an error or even a potential error to someone’s attention? What is the risk if we admit to not knowing something? What is the risk if we voice disagreement? What is the risk if we share what we are really thinking? What is the risk if we share information? What is the risk if we reach out to someone with whom we have had conflict?
The perceived risks can range from damage to one’s pride, being seen as a non-team player for identifying an issue, being ostracized from a power group, being seen as lacking skills to fear of jeopardizing one’s position. When the climate is unhealthy, the risk is not only perceived to be high but is high because members may look for opportunities to find fault with one another. The danger is that mistrust can develop where it is not justified.
The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. Ernest Hemingway
Where Trust Building Starts
He who does not trust enough will not be trusted. Lao Tzu
The place for leaders to start with trust building is not with team members but with themselves. By trusting others the leader is both modeling trust and establishing an environment in which others can begin to take the risk to trust. A leader demonstrates trust by being authentic. They believe in transparency and the sharing of information and knowledge; they share power by sharing decision making or delegating leadership tasks, they consistently act with integrity. Leaders who display integrity are more interested in the right solution, than being right themselves. They are self aligned: what they say and what they do are congruent. They are generous in acknowledging the accomplishments of others. They demonstrate respect and caring. When they are wrong they acknowledge it.
Behaviors and practices that nurture a warm climate
- Take time to reflect and assesses their own behaviors and attitudes.
- Let go of the past are willing to make a fresh start.
- Challenge assumptions.
- Get to know one another better.
- Each focus more on how they can contribute than what they aren’t getting.
- Look for opportunities to recognize teammates and celebrate their accomplishments.
- Look for what’s right in others rather than what’s wrong.
- Respect one another regardless of whether they agree with one another
The keys to building a warm climate? Team members and leaders who demonstrate generosity of spirit and who choose to consistently demonstrate respect for one another as people and as professionals.
For a reliable picture of the health and performance of your team, consider having your team complete the Team Fitness Assessment. You’ll receive all the tools you need to take action to leverage your team strengths and to address the specific areas your team identifies as requiring improvement.