Trust: Essential for High-Performing Teams

"High"-Performing Team
“High”-Performing aerobatics team working in unison

Whether strategic, project-based or operational in nature, organisations want high-performing teams. Why? High-performing teams are recognised for the quality and quantity of work, and their capacity to solve problems and create solutions that are not tenable to a lesser team. With several decades of experience in team settings, I can count on one hand, without repeating the use of fingers, the number of teams I have been part of that were truly high-performing.

My absolute favourite team was a short-duration team of 4 of us brought together for a very specific purpose. None of us had worked together before, or even known each other. For the six weeks we were together we spent most of our waking time together. We were in Twizel, highly remote back in the 90’s, and effectively we only had each other. We were individually and collectively committed to success. We worked tirelessly on our individual tasks. We collaborated whenever we dealt with interfaces or one of us had struck a problem that was anything more than routine. We had rich conversations about problems and possibilities, potential solutions and validating client expectations against our deliverables. As the project manager, I managed the work, not the team. Other than attending to issues and concerns as they arose, team management was not needed. In the context of what we were doing, I was an equal member of the team to everyone else, with my ‘technical role’ consisting of work, delivery and customer management responsibilities. We were peers. We trusted each other thoroughly. We knew all the others had our backs, were supporting us, and that if we were straying from what we were there to do, one of them would respectfully bring us back in. It really was hard work. Being on that team was fantastically rewarding. As much as I would love to claim ‘I created a high-performing team.’ I cannot. It was high-performing, and I certainly ensured that my contribution did not thwart it being high-performing.
High-performing teams result from the team as a whole creating the environment and enabling it to happen. If anyone opts out, or gets in the way, of the process, the fullness of a high-performing team cannot occur.

Why do I put such stock in trust that I name it as an essential ingredient? You can manage teams, assign tasks, ensure roles and responsibilities are clear, establish clear decision-making and problem solving protocols, and monitor performance. The bigger the team, the greater the management burden, which may also extend to ongoing recruitment, performance management and other human resource processes. While all that is in place for a high-performing team, you don’t “manage” the team. You facilitate it. You lead it. You allow and encourage and attend to the culture, values and interpersonal relationships within the team. High performance is nurtured and developed, not mandated. It is established through leadership and owned by everyone. It requires commitment, shared purpose and values, and a willingness and capacity to name and deal with whatever is getting in the way. Those behaviours within a team environment require significant trust. High-performing teams really are all about trusted relationships.

Common behaviours that erode team performance include one-upmanship, back-stabbing, political positioning, withholding from others (relative to team function and work space) and irresponsibility for self and to others in the team. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. What other behaviours have you observed that undermine trust and interfere with achieving cohesion and performance?

Developing high-performing teams is a prime area for team coaching. The coach, as an impartial outsider, is able to observe team functioning and dynamics, and call attention to behaviours that are getting in the way. A coach cannot make a team high-performing. That requires the team’s effort and commitment, but a coach sure can make it easier for those committed to the process, willing to receive feedback, and open to personal growth (adjusting their own attitudes and behaviours where necessary). High-performing teams can and do occur, and the experience of being on one is an incredibly satisfying and fulfilling experience.

Contact me if you’d like support in developing the performance of your team.

 

Celebrating Relationship

Couple in relationship
Being in relationship

Being in deep relationship with others trumps any other approach to learning about ourselves. We may take a journey into ourselves through solitude, meditation, and a myriad other ways to get better acquainted with ourselves, and raise our consciousness and awareness of what makes us tick. At times we may need space and time to disentangle from the complexities and crossed messages that play out when in relationship with others. However nothing beats relationship for creating an environment that enables growth.

I have enjoyed solitude, going on silent retreats and developing awareness of my inner world. None of that comes close to the pressure cooker of being in relationship with another human being and learning while in process. I manage that in small doses, then claim some space for myself before reengaging.

Also, I am not suggesting all relationships are positive. Some are diabolical, or at least damaging, and that we allow them to persist suggests lessons of self-worth and of ending abuse we have yet to learn.

As a young person I felt awkward and uncomfortable with myself, and even more so with and around others. Key messages from my internal critic were that I was inadequate and unworthy, and no one would want to know me. No wonder I felt awkward. Those messages still play though with less intensity. They interfere with engaging smoothly and easily. I watch others who seem to flitter easily into and out of connection with others, and sometimes I feel jealous. I wish it was that easy for me.

However, I have learnt how to be with others, some others, in a deep, intimate and very real way. This includes recognising that:

  • a relationship comprises three primary entities: them, me and the in between.
  • deepening a relationship requires me to share something of myself. As I am more vulnerable and trusting I invite the other to join me. What they do then is their choice.
  • as a relationship deepens feelings are unleashed from within as past experiences (often unconsciously) manifest as current behaviour. Recognising those feelings are not about this person but are about past wounds can assist the relationship building process, especially if I don’t make the person with me the dumping ground for my past hurts. Staying with those feelings and allowing myself to be seen and held in and through those moments is healing. Dumping them on the other person is damaging for them and the relationship.
  • being with the other person as they struggle in their own experience is a privilege so long as they are not dumping their past on me, making me the target of their pain.
  • Empathy, forgiveness and love are crucial ingredients for moving through hurt between me and the other person.
  • in addition to the three primary entities, a relationship includes all those who have been part of both our lives. Their voices, their shaping of our beliefs, attitudes and perceptions, and how they may have hurt us may manifest in our minds or be reflected in the other person at any moment.
  • Not all relationships are equal. Some people will not respect or positively respond to my vulnerability or genuine attempts at being in relationship. Choosing wisely about when and where and with whom to share myself is important.
  • Being in relationship is a dance. It is not a linear process, going deeper, deeper, and deeper still. Instead, it is learning how to engage with this person in front of me, different from all others. Which steps do we share and that enable us to flow together? Which steps do we struggle with and how do we develop in them? What causes us to step on each other’s toes or to trip and fall? How do we pick ourselves up and start again? When is it appropriate to let go and move away? When do we choose to return and reconnect?

These things I have learned are about being in relationship with anyone, not just an intimate partner. The degree of intimacy (“in to me see”) and engagement can be contextual, but often it is choice.

Being in relationships is not an easy exercise. It can be deeply rewarding. At the end of the day success is, in my mind, defined by how I have engaged with others, and what I have learnt about being more fully and authentically with others. In the process I will have seen aspects of myself previously unconscious, and encountered challenges that require me to dig deep and develop new capacities. By being in meaningful relationship with others we have the opportunity to learn about ourselves more deeply and intensely than any other way I know.

What have you learned about being in relationship with others? What gold have you gleaned from your experiences?

Freedom Through Self-Responsibility

The following are examples of behaviours that may be exhibited by someone acting irresponsibly:

  • displaying “poor me”, self-pity, blame and other behaviours that distance themselves from results they are getting in life;
  • withdrawing, being aloof, failing to disclose their true feelings and thoughts, or habitually seeking to please others and otherwise “protect” others (and themselves) from their authentic expression; and
  • seeking to control or take responsibility for others.

To act responsibly means that as a person you do own your outcomes, do express yourself with authenticity, and encourage others to do the same. I have strongly espoused taking responsibility for self. Recently, in a positive way, I gained greater insight into the life-giving value of taking responsibility for myself.

Happy couple in lasting relationship
Lasting, happy relationship

Juanita, my wife, and I hold dialogue sessions when one or other of us needs to surface and work through concerns, misunderstandings, hurts, or other potential or real barriers to our relationship. She called for a dialogue. I wondered what was concerning her, being starkly oblivious to anything I might have done. Being committed to holding a dialogue when needed does not mean they are easy, however I have found them highly beneficial.

Juanita started to share what was up for her. To my surprise, delight and relief, she was choosing to use the dialogue to express gratitude and appreciation to me. One of her particular points was that she experiences a real sense of freedom with me because I take responsibility for myself, examples including:

  • being open and clear with her about how I think and feel;
  • sharing with her any matters I am struggling with and not making the issue her problem so she is not left guessing; and
  • she feels comfortable sharing herself with me knowing I will receive her, even when she has something difficult to share, knowing I will listen to and receive what she is saying, seek to understand her concerns before responding, and that I don’t get defensive or aggressive in the process.

For Juanita, this means she can more fully be herself, explore and be what seems right and true to her being, and can risk being more fully engaged in relationship with me. If she says something that may challenge me, she feels safe knowing I will take responsibility for my internal reaction to her, that I will own my reaction without putting it on to her. In the same vein I expect her to own her responses and not dump on me because she feels hurt, misunderstood or is otherwise struggling. Juanita chose to voice gratitude, and we were both blesses as a result. As we both remain committed to being responsible for ourselves and to the other, we do open up more, engage more fully, freely and authentically with the other, and enjoy a greater sense of being seen for who we really are.

It is a great moment when the blessing of taking responsibility becomes so clear. Walking the path of responsibility can be difficult and fraught, but it is so worthwhile.

Birthday Reflections

Unrelenting Magnificence - Each day is a new birth
Unrelenting Magnificence – Each day is a new birth

Yesterday (January 29th) was a fantastic day. The weather was hot with a clear blue sky. I took a day off from an otherwise busy work month so prosperity, utility and leisure felt beautifully balanced. I spent the day with my darling Juanita, and had the pleasure of lots of birthday wishes flowing in. I had breakfast at a beach café, enjoyed a massage, and was taken out to dinner. All in all, I had a fantastic day.

The main reflection of my day was how blessed I am in terms of the relationships I have. I have a fantastic wife who is my friend, confidant, fan, and fills so many other fabulous roles. I have friends and family who I enjoy in my life, who I can and do turn to in times of challenge, and from whom I receive unique blessings and gifts because of their presence. The quality of my relationships can also be measured by the progress I have made with some that have been difficult, or how some unexpected difficulties within some of these relationships have been addressed and worked with.

As I look back over the past year it has been one of the toughest, most challenging I have ever experienced, with significant hurdles on a number of fronts that covered various aspects of my identity – father, partner, active and healthy man, and productive contributor to name a few – and for much of the time I had no idea how it could work out positively. I did hold a belief that it would. The key really has been founded in the quality of the relationships I have and trusting that whatever I was facing I would learn, grow and benefit from, and that I would ultimately thrive.

I am also very aware of the Buddhist concept of impermanence summarised as “and this too will change.” Nothing is permanent. Everything is fleeting. Whether suffering or joy, pain or pleasure, it will change. There are no guarantees about when, how or in which direction change will occur, only that everything will change. At the end of this very wonderful day I get to celebrate that regardless of what yesterday has been, and without knowing what tomorrow brings, I am alive in this moment, and I feel fantastic. How many fantastic moments can I string together through the web of experience that makes up my life? How can frame those moments I don’t enjoy into something I do appreciate and make meaningful, and move them closer to being experienced as fantastic? Can I approach every day in serenity and with appreciation for the fact I have life in me? That is indeed a challenge worth living for.

Relationships of Trust

Trusted jump
Trusting child leaps to an adult

When you have a relationship with someone that is full of trust and honesty, fantastic things can happen. Trust is akin to feeling safe. You are able to jump into the scary unknown with assurance that you will be okay. A trusting relationship provides such a safety net in which you can work through your emerging fog in safety. Being able to fully express what is up for you, knowing the other person will not take it personally, and that they will listen without judgement is liberating. It enables you to be open, vulnerable and honest, walk where you might otherwise fear to tread, and as a consequence unearth and resolve older, deeper emotional and mental patterns. This is a significant purpose of relationship. Remembering that whatever arises from within you is your own, not the other persons, to work through, enables clear lines of connection in the relationship, no matter what you are working with.

I have such a relationship in my marriage. We have had some significant and robust discussions that required trust on both our parts, and strengthened our trust as a result. Often the sharing is much smaller but the act of sharing still requires trust, and is still beneficial. The act of giving myself permission to share what is going on inside is a major freeing step to take. Recently I awoke from a restless, dream-filled night, felt quite anxious and full of shame, and was able to share this. A burden shared really is a burden reduced, and my experience was an immediate lightening of my mood and I had a fabulous and fruitful day. In the past I might have carried my mood throughout the day and suffered for it.

Whether a partner, friend, or trusted community, it is worthwhile finding someone you can fully, freely and safely express whatever is going on for you, and be received without judgement. The act of choosing to be witnessed in a vulnerable state provides relief to the soul and a chance to expand into new space.

Want Authenticity? Be Authentic

In this crazy rat race we live in it can all too often feel superficial and divorced from reality. You might find yourself alone and adrift when surrounded by many people clamouring to ‘connect’ with you. Where is the real connection? Where is authenticity? What and who can you trust? Start with yourself. Forget your personality and all the learned baggage and protection you have developed over your lifetime. Build and strengthen the relationship you have with yourself, and allow others to see and experience the real you. That can be a scary and highly rewarding journey. Once initiated life and expansion becomes increasingly available, rather than contraction and effort of maintaining a façade. As you become more willing and able to present yourself authentically then you’ll find you draw into your life more people who are authentic with you.