Group Work

Stephen Covey, author of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, once said: “Without trust we don’t truly collaborate, we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.”

A few months ago, I wrote about the importance of team performance to a business’s overall success. One of the key aspects of a high-performing team is trust between its members.

In fact, the Harvard Business Review published a study of hotel staff that showed when employees trusted their managers, the hotels were significantly more profitable. Improving a hotel’s trust score by just one-eighth of a point increased profitability by 2.5 percent.

One core element of trust is perhaps one of the most uncomfortable – or what we at Emergenetics® call “scratchy” – for managers and employees alike: vulnerability.

If you Google the definition of vulnerability, it is defined as “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”

In business, this typically shows up in the form of being open to potential criticism, trying something new and making a mistake or allowing your approach to be questioned. It can be scratchy, yet, as researcher Brenè Brown points out, vulnerability is a powerful way to drive creativity and innovation.

Vulnerability is also a powerful way to support a trusting, positive team culture.

Jeff Polzer, a professor of organizational behavior at Harvard, reports that being vulnerable gets the static out of the way and lets us do the job together, without worrying or hesitating.

When you show vulnerability, it allows team members to feel more comfortable being open and honest with their concerns, questions, mistakes and roadblocks, which ultimately allows for stronger team performance.

Regardless of whether you are a team leader or a team member, you can set the example for others by being vulnerable yourself. The question is: Where do you start?

Vulnerability is not about oversharing or talking about mistakes in an attempt to gain sympathy. These actions are unlikely to establish trust, and in fact, may even undermine it.

Instead, take small actions at first and encourage your team members to do the same.

1. Ask for help on a project.

If you are not an expert on a topic – or even if you are – seek input from your team members. Be open about the fact that you do not know everything and ask your teammates to support you.

I’d also encourage you to consider how the Emergenetics Profile could help you. Use the Profile to identify people who have different thinking and behavioral preferences and reach out for their perspectives. This approach will not only help you take a small action towards vulnerability; it will also enhance the outcomes of your project by harnessing cognitive diversity.

2. Ask for feedback.

Connect with your team members and ask for their feedback on some aspect of your performance – that could be your leadership style, your support as a team member or your project management skills.

Keep in mind: Many individuals ask for feedback. The manner in which you accept these comments will impact whether you receive sincere feedback again.

When you ask for a team member’s input, be receptive and listen with your full attention. Make sure that your teammates know their feedback has been heard and you intend to act on it.

3. Try something new.

When we step outside of our comfort zone, we automatically put ourselves in a vulnerable position. It can be scary, exciting and fulfilling all at the same time.

Identify a new skill or technology you would like to learn. Talk to your teammates about your process as well as the successes and challenges you face. Your experience may encourage your teammates to try new skills too!

4. Admit to mistakes.

We can all likely think of a situation that has come up in our workday when we could have handled something differently to achieve a better outcome.

Be up front with your team about these mistakes you have made to show vulnerability and establish trust. They will respect you and likely learn something from your experience as well.

I challenge you to take one of these practices and try it out in the next week. It may feel scratchy! And you will find the more you practice, the easier it will get to be vulnerable.

When your team sees you practicing these behaviors, they will develop greater trust and feel more empowered to be vulnerable as well.

Then, you can really start to accelerate your performance as a team!


Interested in building a more trusting team? Connect with us to learn how our Power of WE: Building Trust workshop can support your work.

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