Have you ever found yourself alone listening to music and you take a look around wondering if it is safe to dance? Safe because your dancing is so bad it is unfit for other eyes, in fact it is so bad you are not sure you should look. Perhaps your car is a little safer, it is a capsule of invulnerability, so when you are alone you can sing at the top of your voice and no one can see, or not until you stop at the lights and notice the person in the car next to you looking at you.
Feeling safe enough to be vulnerable is not easy even when you are alone, but it gets progressively harder when there are other people around. Now I’d never sing or dance in front of others, but the other day I found myself at lunch with four of my closest friends at work – if asked I would say I trusted the four of them a lot, I consider them really great friends, so I felt able to be a little bit vulnerable and I told a slightly inappropriate joke.This may not seem a big deal but I immediately became embarrassed I glowed red and went quiet for a while, I found vulnerability is tough even among such good friends.
Vulnerability is tough even among close friends
We all want to be liked and accepted, to be included in a group, and so it can be hard to be vulnerable, and yet the irony is that taking the step to show vulnerability may well be the step needed to make those friendships and your team stronger.
Trust in a team
In a team environment it is so important that you can feel enough trust with ALL of your team mates that you can truly feel able to say things like:
- I need help
- I don’t understand
- I disagree
- I made a mistake
- I find those tasks difficult
- Show me how to do that again
- I feel uncomfortable when you do that
- I wanted to do the task you took
- I am unhappy with this decision
But if I struggle to trust even my best friends, how can I possibly trust co-workers that I know much less, after all the same rules apply. I want to be liked and accepted, I definitely don’t want to look stupid or uncooperative, I don’t want to discourage others or waste time, I have a burning need to feel valued and part of the team. I need to show my worth to my boss, etc.
Is it safe to dance?
Essentially when you are part of a team you are asking yourself “is it safe to dance?”
If you keep that in mind it gets easier, what would make it safe to dance for you. For me it would take a lot!
I’d need others to dance first, probably all the others, but certainly the leaders, the people the others respect. I’d need to see that some were as bad as me, I’d need to see that no one was laughing at them (only laughing with them) and that everyone was encouraging and supportive, then and only then might I feel able to be vulnerable and join in, and frankly it would take a few repeats before I would truly feel comfortable.
We can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind
Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance
Well they’re no friends of mine…
How does that relate to work?
You may think that dancing is not like working in a team and that the humiliation of dancing is far worse that simply doing your day job, but I think this is one of the reasons teams suffer from an absence of trust so often. We dismiss both the importance and underestimate the difficulty of building trust in a team.
In a team environment you are sharing your ideas which are deeply personal, your knowledge and judgment which may be closely associated with your sense of self. Doing something wrong could affect your job, maybe even your career. Sure you may not look and feel like a buffoon but the stakes are much higher. And even if you get past the work related barriers you still have to contend with our inherent desire to be socially accepted, to be liked and valued.
So how do you build trust on a team?
Actually this is not that complicated it is not really any different to building friendships.
- Spend time to get to know each other, take a few minutes during meetings to get to know each other, this is not waste, a few minutes spent building relationships could well be the most productive aspect of the meeting in the long term.
- Chat over coffee and as you work – about personal stuff
- Have lunch together as a team – this works best if the whole team is together.
- Play games! One of the best ways to build relationships is to play a game something simple like a card game is great, it is inclusive and leveling, the most junior member of a team can challenge the most senior in the safe confines of the rules of a game this makes it much easier to discuss work ideas on a level playing field later.
- Time, trust and relationships take time, do not underestimate it.
For all of these it works best if everyone is there to avoid creating pockets of trust which could undermine the team later.
The last one was time, and warrants an extra note. Building relationships is a slow process you can’t simply flick a switch, allow teams the time and space to grow the relationships will build and grow stronger and stronger, and once the team is stable changes can be made so long as a core remains to keep the identity and trust that has formed.
Trust takes time
If I had to recommend one book that would help your team become the best Agile Software Development team, it would be The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, the book does not even mention agility. But in my opinion the vast majority of questions I’m asked or problems I see can be traced back to something covered in this book.
You cannot uncover better ways to deliver software without first uncovering better ways to work as a team. And the basis for an effective team is Trust.
Building trust should be your top priority, spend the time, make the time, it is an investment in the future of the team. Without trust anything else you do will suffer.
Without trust anything else you do will suffer.
Take the time to build trust on your team, make it safe to dance.