Stories: Prioritizing Time for Building Trust

TrustWhat does it make possible when people who work together know each other as whole people? That question led off this post about creating supportive, joyful teams. It also kicked off a whole series of posts in our weekly eJournal, with practice exercises for getting to know each other.

Here’s the thing, though:

All the exercises and practices in the world will remain in the pile of “stuff I wish I’d tried” if we don’t prioritize taking time for those efforts.

We all want to listen thoughtfully. We all want to feel heard, and to help others feel heard. We know that is the key to moving forward in business, in community work, in life.

And yet, repeatedly when it comes to creating the conditions for that listening to happen in our day-to-day reality, we repeatedly hear the same words, as if it were written in stone:

We can’t take the time for that; we have too much to do.

And we all know the result of that approach…

  • Instead of having real conversations with real individual people, getting to know what they really think and feel, we host scripted focus groups in the name of efficiency.
  • Instead of picking up the phone and asking people about their experience, we do surveys and canned evaluations, in the name of efficiency.
  • Instead of getting to know each other, and creating ongoing conditions for nurturing relationships with our team, we wait till things crash and burn, then hire a “team builder” to “boost morale” and “build trust.”

In what world is this an efficient use of time? In what world is that approach effective in building the trust relationships that lead to smart, creative, innovative, well aligned teams?

Working Together on VideoIt is time to acknowledge that repeatedly taking the same ineffective approach while expecting a different result is not just crazy. It is worse. It is counterproductive and wasteful of every one of our resources, especially the resource that is our people and their time, all in the name of efficiency.

Things can be different. In government, in the corporate world, in any workplace anywhere…

Edrie LaVoie directs the County Human Services Department in rural Lyon County, Nevada. Because her team’s work is to provide support for the people in that county, Edrie’s staff of government workers are more often in the field than in the office, traversing the 2,000 square miles that comprise their domain. That allows little time to get to know each other, to build trust, to work together as a team.

In late 2015, Edrie’s department faced some significant transition and reorganization, leading to management turnover and a new, young team. Those individuals each did their own work, separately guarding their time, their space, their resources – a common occurrence in workplaces around the world.

Six months after the last hire, Edrie chose to dedicate an entire management meeting to having people tell their stories and get to know each other. What led you to the work you’re currently doing? What is the winding path of your life, that led you to this department?

“We got to know each other as people, not positions, honoring both our strengths and our vulnerabilities.

“This was a turning point in our organization. Going forward, the managers became a team, supporting each other and feeling part of the department as a whole, rather than focusing on individual divisions.”

We all talk about the need for breaking down silos. In that one afternoon, that work began. And 18 months later, the effects are still being felt, as Edrie makes sure there is time, even if just a few minutes in each meeting, for her team members to connect as whole people.

Think of your own team, whether it is a work team, a volunteer team, a board of directors, a church group, or your family members around the holiday table. Think of the last big blow-up you experienced – people feeling misunderstood and not listened to, an atmosphere of mistrust and guardedness.

How can we build trust and communication if we don’t invest the time to get to know each other?

That was the wisdom that management consultant Mark Eckhardt shared with his client, a new division head at a Fortune 100 company.

After a month on the job, the division head’s plan had been to gather his management team, and share his vision for moving forward. Mark asked, “How well do you know those individuals?” His client told him, “I’ve met all 30 of them. I’ve spent more time with perhaps 5 of them.”

Mark asked again, “How well do you know them as people?” And his client confessed he barely knew them at all.

“Let’s take that meeting and have your team get to know you AND each other. Your vision and their vision for what’s possible will come out of that. And you’ll be able to move forward together as a real team.”

Working_Together_Teamwork_Puzzle_ConceptIf people don’t know their new team leader as a whole human beyond his/her title and position – and if they don’t feel he/she cares enough to know them – why would they trust that new person’s vision about work they’ve been doing since long before he/she arrived? How could we expect those team members to live that vision? In what world could we expect that that is the road to their feeling loyalty and trust for their team? 

The power of getting to know each other, then, is not simply a matter of intention; that power lies in the act of prioritizing and investing TIME for that human aspect of our work.

Because whether your work is to manufacture automobile parts or to counsel people addicted to drugs – whether you are a steel worker or a kindergarten teacher – the success of your work will rely on the people you work with. The more trust those people have in each other, the more they will bring out the best in each other.

That doesn’t take magic.

It simply takes prioritizing and investing your time in building trust and relationships. And that all starts with investing time in getting to know each other as whole people.

• What is your favorite “prioritizing / investing time in people” story?
• And what is your best tip for creating the time for people to know and trust each other?

Let us know in the comments!

Photo credits:
“Carry Me” by Hildy
“Working together on a video” by cogdogblog [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
“Teamwork Puzzle Concept” by lumaxart  [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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