Leading Teams Facilitator, Tim Ferguson was asked 10 questions about authenticity and trust in the workplace. Tim draws on his vast experience working with teams and individuals to highlight the importance of trusting colleagues in order to achieve high performance.
Q.1: Does authenticity – being open and honest – lead to a less stressed/anxious workplace? If so, how?
TF: Yes, absolutely.
In every team there is a potential for conflict, simply because we don’t all think the same.
It doesn’t matter how good the team is, there will always be diversity of thought. This diversity can be a great asset for a team if it is used in a productive manner. Our ability to be true to self – authentic – to be honest and open and address issues in a way that leads to resolution is key to high performance.
Q.2: What techniques do you suggest to help facilitate a less stressful and anxious workplace?
TF: I think the first part of this is the professional relationships that exist within the team.
It is fine to say to a team that it’s good to be open and honest, however, if the relationships in the team don’t allow for those conversations to be held in a safe environment (that also comes back to trust) then either we tend to avoid the conversations or the conversations are less than productive.
Q.3: Is it fair to say that relationships go hand-in-hand with workplace stress and anxiety?
TF: Absolutely. When we encounter a team that is not performing at its optimum, somewhere along the line there will generally be relationships that are not as functional as they could be. In terms of relationships, there is that level of trust and respect, however, it is also about having clear expectations.
Q.4: Are you able to elaborate a little bit more on the ‘trust’ and ‘expectations’?
TF: We have a pretty simple model for trust and it focuses on competence and character. The competence bit is really about trusting your colleagues to have the necessary skills to perform in the role.
Additionally, when that colleague is under pressure can they still execute those skills?
Some may say, “In a professional sense, I do think Jack or Jill can do the job, but when the pressure is on, I don’t quite trust he or she will be able to get it done.”
The character bit basically asks if your colleague is good for their word. It is very hard to trust someone that isn’t good for their word. Additionally, we ask ‘Will this person put the team’s interests before their own if required?”
Q.5: Can you provide examples from past experience of a successful process that brought about a more stress-free workplace?
TF: If we are clear about our expectations, it allows us to be clear about how we can support each other.
We talk about workload being a bit like share prices – it can be low one day and high the next.
If we built relationships where we can tell others that we are under the pump, team members will be more likely to get some support. This will certainly contribute to lower stress if we are able to share workload around the team more efficiently.
Some people are afraid to put their hand up and say they are struggling because they are worried their work mates may have a negative view towards them.
I work with an executive team where their ability to remove themselves from the mechanics of the business, such as holding conversations purely around the business’ financial performance or delivering the strategic plan was quite limited. They did not really know each other at any other level. They had not invested in the relationship aspect of this mini-society that was their workplace.
This has changed.
This team has allowed themselves to be more stress-free and they’re collaborating more effectively. They had an executive who owned a very large portfolio and he often felt like he had no support. By asking some questions around what his current challenges are, he was able to share that information with a couple of the other executives and receive help. All-in-all, that executive team is now much less stressed and it’s because of their ability and willingness to share information via a more meaningful and engaged relationship.
Q.6: How do you get people to be honest and open about things they are not good at?
TF: Great question. It does come down to the culture that exists within a team and the culture that exists within an organisation.
Culture is underpinned by behaviour. What do we reward, and what are we prepared to walk past?
Generally speaking, the first thing people do when they join a team is to figure out how they can fit in. They can get a sense of how to fit in from a cultural perspective by observing the behaviour of their team mates around them. A good way to get an insight into a team or organisation’s culture is to simply ask the newest person to communicate what they see. They have fresh eyes and they may see things that we don’t, so their view can be important if we’re willing to listen.
As a newer member of the team, would I be likely to put my hand up if I’m struggling and ask for help, or would I feel like I need to try and find a way through on my own? Again, it does come back to the level of trust within the team and the willingness of leaders to be a little bit vulnerable.
We encourage leaders to have those genuine conversations, but ultimately, if we have a culture that is solely focused on the mechanics such as the projects we need to get done, it is very difficult to get a sense that it is really safe to put those vulnerabilities out there.
We find that the teams that take the time to get to know each other, build relationships, and understand how they can support each other are the ones who continue to find ways to improve.
Q.7: What is the main difference in workplaces pre-Leading Teams and post-Leading Teams?
TF: The Leading Teams program is about improving performance.
Depending on the team or organisation, improvement can mean different things. Some clients will be looking for an improvement in bottom line, other clients will be looking for an improvement in staff engagement. We are really in the business of having that conversation with the organisation of setting out what improvement looks like. What does a ‘great team’ look like for them?
We then use our model, which focuses on the dynamics of the team (rather than the mechanics of what they do) to help drive that improvement.
We believe behaviour drives performance.
If we are not getting the performance in the organisation we are looking for somewhere along the line it’s because we are not behaving in a way that drives that performance. Again, our relationships play a role in there and our ability to discuss what could improve.
Q.8: Do most organisations that you go into find this approach confronting?
TF: There is certainly rigour in the program, and some organisations may find this a challenge, particularly if genuine conversations haven’t traditionally been a part of their culture.
Q.9: On the matter of millennials, do you think that cohort requires a different approach? Or is the millennials thing a bit of a fabrication?
TF: I believe making assumptions about individuals based on their generation is problematic.
There are differences in the workplace today compared with twenty or thirty years ago. For example, people coming into the workforce today have far more information at their disposal so any leader who believes they hold all the knowledge is perhaps missing the point.
It is incumbent on the leader to engage with the team on a discussion or solution. These days you are dealing with some very well-informed people so not engaging these people will be a major error.
Additionally, the advent of better technology, in particular, social media has created an environment where we can receive instant gratification. We seek feedback. This is not a new phenomenon. Social media has just provided a tool to help people get quicker feedback – the thirst for feedback has always been there, it’s just that many workplaces haven’t been great at engaging in the process. Feedback is a skill, and if there’s one thing we know about skills it is that we need to practice them.
Rather than deferring to a process-driven framework such as a formal performance review, would there be value in creating a culture where giving and receiving feedback is just a normal part of everyday work? We think so.
Q.10: How would you define a modern leader?
TF: Rather than a modern leader, I think it’s best to discuss an effective leader.
These people engage with a group to help them find a solution.
‘No one knows more than everyone’. So, regardless of where you sit on the hierarchy, whether you’re the CEO or the cleaner, you have a view and you have a potential to be a part of the solution.
So I think an effective leader, in this day and age, focuses on engagement, not just being the one with all the answers.