In building teams there is one challenge I find the hardest one of them all. It is daily affected by actions, choices and personalities. It is an individual challenge as well as a team challenge.
I am talking about trust. In creating a powerful team. We need to have that trust in each other and in the team. If we don’t trust our team to support us, we act accordingly and lean out rather than lean in. trust is about courage to lean on others and responsibility to handle well what is leaning on you.
To many of us the biggest challenge is to truly trust the team. Deep down it is a very vulnerable thing to do. Standing tall on your own is something you can control. Trusting others to be there is outside your control. You can do things to encourage or discourage it but you can not control it.
Testing your level of trust
One way of illustrating this is balance exercises within the team. Try your own ability to trust by standing back to back with a team member. In this exercise you may want to have an observer who can afterwards tell you what they saw, or if you are a team of two you can let your cell phone camera record you because you want to be able to have an outside look of what is happening.
Start directly back to back. How comfortable are you? Some of us feel invaded by having someone that close and immediately feel the urge to move away. Just stand there, listen and feel – what happens in you when you are this close?
The move away a meter from each other (still back to back) and lean back towards each other until your backs meet and you stand leaning on each other forming a strong triangular shape.
Easy? Congratulations, you have trust. What quite often happens is that one (or both) lean very, very little backwards because leaning backwards makes us feel like we will fall. If we are not trusting the other one to do the same then we go carefully. No one wants to be the one leaning all in and tipping over when balance is lost and leaning half a meter back is more than most of us regularly do in full balance.
Taking care of your own needs is not enough
Now let’s use this little exercise to look at what happens when you don’t trust your team. You hold back because you don’t want to fall over, you think you are too heavy, too tall, too short or whatever thoughts are running through your head. Instead of leaning back and meeting your partner you stand in your own balance, taking care of your own needs. Seems fair enough doesn’t it. “I am doing no harm; I take responsibility of myself.” (And here is where you may want to check in with your observer or have a look at the recording – it is really quite common that the two participants are feeling like they are really leaning in but the other is not and what is actually happening is no-one dares leaning far enough to actually meet the other ones back.)
Well, what you are actually doing is making it real hard on you partner! Instead of having to lean half a meter back and being met by your back to lean on, your partner now must lean almost the full meter backwards in order to find you. Standing back to back leaning half a meter each is hard but steady when you lean equally. But leaning almost a full meter backwards towards someone just giving you a small support by leaning in passively is quite frightening. There is no way you can keep your balance on your own once you have leaned that far back. You will probably be quite occupied by thoughts like “will he/she stay or make a movement – any movement may make me fall” and “gosh, this is really heavy”. Not a very creative state of mind.
Trusting your team
Trusting your team is truly trusting them to be there. Doing their part, being there when you lean in. And to be a trustable team partner you need to do more than take responsibility for your own balance. You need to be there for your team at a systemic level.
In order to be a good team member, you need to clear out your own issues of trust. We all have different personalities and experiences that build up a way of acting. Make it your topic of coaching for a few sessions to explore your behaviour in a team and what is holding you back. Teambuilding is about building a solid balance from the parts of the team. Using individual coaching combined with team coaching are good ways of exploring potential obstacles at both personal and systemic level and get that trust into the room. In my next blog post I will give a few tips on how to work with trust within the team.
For now, I leave you with exploring how trusting you are and at what cost.