I know, I know, you're scratching your head, wondering what in the world toned calves have to do with trust. You see, when teams don't trust...
Well, think about it like this.
You're At The Gym
Sweat is trickling down your forehead as the bass bounces off the brightly colored walls and thumps in your chest. It's emanating from a darkened room across the way where people who you're certain possess more motivation (read: psychosis) than you are doing some ridiculous workout that promises they'll resemble a Greek god 91 days from now.
Whilst the greek-gods-in-training continue their assault on Mount Olympus in the other room, one particularly large bead of sweat — you know the one — is making its way from your sweet, 80s-inspired sweatband down toward your eyebrows. Once there, it will no doubt traverse the terrain between the aforementioned eyebrows, slide down that short distance just to the side of the bridge of your nose, and then roll precariously — but almost intentionally, it seems — toward your quickly blinking eye.
As you blink faster in what you know to be a futile effort to avoid the soon-to-be-stinging reminder that your sweatband is doing next to nothing, you turn your head from side to side, hoping this motion alters the trajectory of the until-now-undeterred drop of sweat.
Your antics accomplish what you expect (read: nothing), and momentarily you feel the sting of defeat (read: sweat) as the determined bead of sweat enters your eye. You can almost hear it taunting you.
Simultaneously, as you continue shaking your head, you overhear a couple of folks next to you explaining to another person at the gym that the secret to their well-toned calves was their workplace.
Cue vinyl record scratching sound.
At least you think that’s what they said.
You pause momentarily. You couldn’t have heard correctly.
You nonchalantly wipe your eyes, trying to rid them of sweat as you attempt to covertly listen in.
That. Stings. (Pro tip: Wiping makes it worse.)
You hear one of them — a gentleman with a tad too much hair product, a tad too much cologne, and wearing running shoes with a tad too much...reflectiveness — explaining with a wry grin on his face, “Yeah, we basically spend chunks of our day sitting in meetings nodding and smiling at what other people say. It’s just easier that way.”
“Especially if it’s our boss,” his female colleague chimes in as she stretches, pulling her right foot up behind her and clutching it with her hands. “It’s just not worth the blowback of speaking up.”
Sensing their friend was puzzled, she goes on, switching legs as she does so, hopping once to maintain her balance.
“Look, we all sit around in these meetings; and it’s not like we don’t know what people are thinking. But even if it’s said kindly, if someone speaks up and says what they’re actually thinking; if it’s not in agreement with what someone else has said, it causes all sorts of problems.”
“Right,” A Tad Too Much Guy goes on. “It’s impossible to actually talk about anything without people getting ticked off at each other. At least not anything important. It’s like if you point out a potential weak spot in a strategy or idea, it’s tantamount to looking at the person who came up with the strategy and calling their mother an unfashionable walrus or something. It’s easier to just tip-toe around all day and avoid everything. How do you think I got these calves?”
There are warning signs
You often see them in meetings. These warning signs tell us that a lot of teams don’t trust each other in meaningful ways, and they demonstrate that by not being able to have truly open and candid discussions with each other about important issues.
What often happens may look a little like this:
Teams don't trust each other, so no one questions anything.
This is especially true if it comes from someone higher up the food chain or with a more dominant personality type or social style.
Teams don't trust each other, so politics and personal attacks thrive.
This is because all those thoughts have to come out at some point, but folks don’t feel comfortable saying what they’re thinking in the actual meetings. So they do it after the meeting. It’s the meeting after the meeting. You know the one.
Teams don't trust each other, so people sit silently meeting after meeting.
Why is that? How is that? How can adult humans have no thoughts or opinions about things they’re working on together that affect the future and direction of the organization? Spoiler alert: They do have thoughts. They’re just not sharing them for one reason or another.
Tap dancing is considered team building because teams don't trust each other.
People pirouette around what they perceive to be controversial topics precisely because they could be controversial. They rationalize it as preserving the peace. And all that tap dancing, of course, has a consequence...
The team has well-sculpted calves. It's because they don't trust each other.
In truth, it ought to be a red flag if a team can sit in meetings together discussing important things without engaging in robust and passionate discussion about those things sometimes. If teams can discuss things without any diverging opinions being aired, they can be almost certain things are being left unsaid or unexplored. It's tough to imagine a bunch of adult professionals sitting in a room actually agreeing about everything all the time.
Leaders, It’s on Us
Look, lots of high-performing leaders and entrepreneurs will attest to the fact that healthy culture is a huge competitive advantage. As Gary Vaynerchuk says, great culture generates speed; and trust is one of the core elements within any healthy, high-performing culture. This idea — that one way the lack of trust will manifest on a team is through a lack of robust discussion around ideas — is an especially important point to grasp if you are in any sort of leadership role within your group, team, department, small business, or large corporation. We have to understand that we need our teams to work and think through our ideas.
As humans, we’re nowhere near perfect, so we need to be aware (sometimes painfully aware) of the fact that not all of the ideas we have are good ones. Healthy teams work and think through ideas together, critique them, and offer alternatives. It’s only after that sort of exercise that we can move forward together, confident we’ve explored the options we could think of and selected the best one, even if it’s not the one that we, as their leaders, were advocating. Who came up with an idea doesn't really matter; it's making sure the team came out the other side with the best strategy that matters.
So What Can Leaders Do?
Be realistic. Understand that this sort of healthy, productive conflict doesn't happen automatically.
Like anything of real value on a team, trust must be worked at and practiced.
Consider that like with other areas of your business, things like this can sometimes be helped with some outside expertise. Think about calling someone in from the outside to sit in on a couple of strategic meetings and help you identify when and where these discussions should be taking place, as well as what those discussions might sound like.
When you do start working on it, stay encouraged. Think about it like this: If your team currently doesn’t engage in ideological conflict, it’s going to be a lot like learning how to ride a bike all over again at first. It likely will feel uncomfortable and slightly awkward, but your team needs to persevere through that stage so you can begin to really reap the benefits of cultivating an engaged and creative culture.
Now, though, I'd love to hear from you.
What Do You Think?
As a teammate, what's kept you from speaking up in meetings or being more candid with your teammates, either in your current role or in a previous one?
What would make it easier to be more fully engaged with your team?
As a leader, what have you done to encourage your team to be more human, candid, and open about what they're really thinking?
What makes it more challenging for you to open up your ideas — and yourself — to your team? What would make it easier to be more fully engaged with your team in that way?
What tips would you share with others on this topic? Share your knowledge and/or experience so we can all grow together!
Let us know in the comments below, and then share this post so others can share their ideas! That way, we can all learn, grow, and benefit together from shared knowledge!