No trust—no team.
And, when I use the word team, I’m not just referring to a group of individuals who wear the same coloured shirts or, in the business world, work for the same company or organisation. Team, in this instance, infers so much more.
My first and most convincing experience of trust and its foundational relationship to high-performing teams came through sport while competing as an athlete. What I learned as a young teenager still rings true more than forty years later; trust is not something you turn on like a light switch but builds over time. It’s a felt sense—and you know when you have it.
The most powerful and, perhaps, compelling reason to build trust in any team is that it doesn’t necessarily plateau. The longer a team exists, the deeper the relationships can become and, therefore, the greater the trust you can develop.
This reason is important because I believe performance is proportional to trust. Show me a team with long-established trust, and I’ll show you a team performing at a high level. In fact, when I reflect on the best rowing crews I was either a part of or coached, the crews that had built the most trust were the most successful.
Good question—why is trust foundational to a team’s ability to show up as their best selves?
Simple, when we think of trust, we think of safety. And when safety’s onboard, we have a team where people feel free to fail—yes, to fail! And that’s the paradox that exists with performance.
We often interpret high performance to mean creating an environment where individuals/teams are motivated to perform at their best. And that’s true. We all need a good reason to want to perform. However, we also need a good reason to feel safe while performing.
For example, there’s a good reason why most people consider public speaking scarier than dying.
Yup, shame is that powerful—that debilitating. The idea of getting up in front of other people and speaking presents some possibly prickly outcomes. And shame could be a part of that. If we feel or hear that our message was poorly delivered or lacking substance—look out! We’ll do pretty much anything to avoid that.
However, if that feedback gets delivered so that the individual who spoke feels supported in their process of simply getting better at public speaking—the shame falls away. In fact, it doesn’t even have to make an appearance.
Remember, most of us have a learned aversion to failure. We’ve grown up learning that failure is wrong and deserves punishment. Not physically, of course, but emotionally. As we grow and learn, shame becomes our learned response to failure.
When leaders remove the stigma—the threat—of what failing can and does represent, we feel free to fail and, in doing so, perform at a higher level.
Many factors contribute to a safe culture within a team. For me, the most important one starts with establishing a peer-to-peer coaching culture where fellow teammates can work together while providing feedback, for example.
As most of you know, inquiry is the key to effective coaching. Asking thoughtful questions to provide feedback is far more effective when discussing improving performance than simply giving “honest, constructive criticism.” The bonus, of course, being it also supports safety.
There are three simple questions to start with:
- What went well?
- What was tricky?
- And what do you want to do differently going forward?
AFTER identifying what they did well, allowing a team member to identify their own challenges and the next steps to address them is far more empowering than providing feedback that lists every possible flaw your team member represents and labelling it “construction.”
If you, as the coach, feel the team member has missed some critical points during the inquiry process, you can ask, “Would you like some coaching from me?” If they answer “yes,” this is your opportunity to fill in the gaps in a way that supports your team members’ personal growth. Because you asked if you could provide the feedback, and they said “yes,” the feedback is on their terms and therefore lands differently.
Whether or not I’m working with an elite athlete, an executive, or our daughter—it doesn’t matter; I begin with these three questions. In my experience, nothing more effectively contributes to a high-performing team that feels safe and empowered.
We partner with ambitious and progressive organisations in building healthy high-performing cultures that produce world-class results and contribute to the greater good of society. We utilize holistic process-centred strategies that support empowerment, accountability, and safety.
This guest blog is written by Jason Dorland, an Olympian, coach, entrepreneur, and storyteller who dedicates his life to pursuing excellence for himself and those he supports. He is the author of Chariots and Horses: Life Lessons from an Olympic Rower, Pulling Together: A Coaches Journey to Uncover the Mindset of True Potential, and his third book—a novel—IKE: the dog who saved a human. To purchase Jason’s books, please visit www.lovereadingike.com
When Jason is not spending time running with their dogs Oakley and Bella on the trails or swimming at nearby Theits Lake on Vancouver Island, he’s sharing experiences and life lessons through keynotes and workshops with his wife and fellow Olympian, Robyn Meagher. To find out more about their work, visit www.yourmindset.ca.