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Why Your Company Should Care About Trust

The key to building effective teams

On my first day of school at Hyper Island, a few minutes after meeting my new class, we were all asked to give a presentation to the rest of the group on the three most important things that had shaped us. Naturally, I was nervous and anxious (just like most people would be) — but with an open mind, each of us shared something personal. Because we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable, the trust and security within our class grew exponentially and this made collaborating on projects a lot more effective.

The Importance of Trust

As fundamentally social creatures we are constantly preoccupied with how others perceive us. Especially at work, the last thing we want is to be seen as ignorant, incompetent, or negative. To avoid saying or doing ‘the wrong thing’, many of us stay clear of speaking up or taking action altogether.

The need for open and honest communication in a workplace setting is an often-discussed topic, but few talk about the role that trust plays in getting there. Without trusting that they can be themselves without facing negative outcomes, the members of your team will naturally inhibit themselves — and this isn’t good for anyone.

At Hyper Island I experienced the positive impact trust has within a team, and at Perlego I have witnessed the great things that can be achieved when your workplace focuses on building trust.

What your organisation can achieve through trust

Perlego team photo
The Perlego team

🤝 Working together
First and foremost, trust facilitates effective communication and strong collaboration. When we feel a sense of trust within our teams, we are more willing to speak openly, put forth our ideas, and manage conflict rather than avoid it.

🌱 Growing together
Being honest about our true thoughts and feeling is scary and difficult, sometimes even with the people, we care about the most. But when we have trust in the people we work with it makes giving and receiving effective feedback a lot easier. Feedback that is clear, honest, and meaningful may still make us feel uncomfortable at first, but gives us the valuable insights necessary for self-improvement.

💜 Strong company culture
When there is uncertainty (which is most of the time) or a challenge to overcome, trusting that the people around you are both honest enough to recognise their limitations and co-operative enough to find solutions in a collaborative way, makes people feel secure. Employees are happier and less anxious knowing their team members can be relied upon and they are more inclined to stick around, often finding ways in which they themselves can contribute.

✨ Innovation
When we feel safe we are more likely to take risks, experiment with our ideas, and challenge the status quo in a way that is inventive and creative. There can’t be creativity and innovation without a feeling of safety — you need to feel trust that others will listen, respect (and not ridicule) your ideas in order to feel safe offering them.

The secret recipe for trust

In a study done by Google on the ‘five keys to a successful Google team’, researchers found one ingredient to be the most important, and which underpinned the other four. — psychological safety

Coined by Amy Edmondson, Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, psychological safety means

“Team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.”

To feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other, you need to have (you guessed it) trust. Now you may think it’s easier said than done, but actually, there is one pretty straightforward concept that can make I happen: openness creates trust.

Openness & Trust Spiral

When the purpose of that first exercise at Hyper Island was revealed to us, we were introduced to the ‘Openness & Trust Spiral’, a concept developed by Anders Wendelheim from Stockholm University.

The concept illustrates the relationship between openness and trust as a feedback loop.

The more open we are with each other, the more trust that is created between us. The more trust we have in each other the more open we’re willing to be.

Diagram of the Openness & Trust Spiral
Openness & Trust Spiral

This means that each time we allow ourselves to be vulnerable (and it isn’t met with a personal rejection), we create an environment where trust can grow.

Being vulnerable vs being unsafe

Personal relationships, communication, and collaboration

Though a lot of the apprehension around being open comes from a fear of personal rejection, to build these relationships we have to be personal (that’s the vulnerability part). Many of us think that at work we should only be professional and that we should leave all the personal stuff at home. But being personal is essential to building trust because it requires us to be vulnerable.

This isn’t to say you need to share your most intimate secrets, there is a difference between being ‘personal’ and being ‘private’ — which is where most people’s feelings of ‘unsafety’ occur the most. Being vulnerable is different from being unsafe.

Check-in Questions

To give an example, in our Perlego design team, we start each morning with a ‘Check-In’ question. The questions are formed in a way that invites each of us to reflect and understand the emotional state we and everyone else is currently in. They can be light and fun (“Which song represents your current mood best?” or “What you need today in order to be productive?”) — what’s important is that they create a space for us to make our relationship more personal.

Me being open about my personal experience means they can trust me to be honest about how I’m feeling and I can trust them to take my feelings into consideration. This results in stronger relationships, better communication, and more effective collaboration.

Socials

Since I started at Perlego, when there were just 20 of us, our relationships have always been quite personal. We have frequent ‘Socials’ and ‘After works’ and like many workplaces, most of us are really good friends. Spending time with each other outside of professional settings affords us opportunities to build our personal relationships. Because we know one another on a personal level, it makes it easier to collaborate and co-operate during the times when we are working together.

Being honest vs being nice

Honesty, feedback & Radical Candor

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

I’m sure these words sound familiar to many of us, and being careful and considerate when I speak is something I put a lot of thought into. However, this way of thinking can often prevent us from giving and receiving effective feedback.

Being ‘nice’ is often perceived as an expectation in the workplace. Because we naturally want others to see us as a ‘nice person’ we can find ourselves not being entirely honest with the people we work with, so as not to ‘hurt their feelings’ or come across as mean or insensitive.

Although we believe we are doing the kind thing by not speaking honestly, we are not. We are actually doing a disservice to the other person because we are withholding valuable insights into how that person can improve and grow, to which they could be completely oblivious to otherwise. Being ‘nice’ shouldn’t need to come at the expense of being honest.

Effective Feedback

Last year, in one of my monthly reviews, my manager spoke honestly about her concern for my lack of organisation and time management. Despite us having a great relationship, she was frank about the fact that it was blocking me from moving to the next stage in my career development. She could’ve sugar-coated it, or maybe even not said anything at all, but because she was honest I now had a more accurate picture of reality and the knowledge of where and how I could become better. If she had decided to not say anything at all, I doubt I would have progressed as quickly as I did. Everyone benefitted from this and it was made possible because of the trust we had in each other to give and receive honest feedback.

Radical Candor

Creating this culture of honest, effective feedback is something we’re really working hard on at Perlego because we see the value it brings to the whole company. Last year our CEO introduced us to a framework called Radical Candor, which provides a guide on how to approach feedback when you really care about a team member and are also willing to challenge them to help foster growth.

Diagram of the Radical Candor Framework
Radical Candor Framework

The aim is to be in the top right quadrant of the four sections, where it is possible to be both caring and critical at the same time. Radical Candor happens where those two concepts intersect — and this where people can grow the most.

Take-Aways

To conclude, the more I work within teams, the clearer to me it is that trust is the foundation on which everything else stands. Being open and vulnerable at work may sound terrifying and go against all your instincts. However, when your organisation creates a culture that actively cares about building trust, it increases team happiness, employee commitment, and effective collaborative relationships that lead to innovation.

Amy Edmondson writes on Psychological safety that in order to create it, you should do these three things:

01. Frame work as a learning problem instead of an execution problem.

02. Allow everyone room to make mistakes and learn from them. (yourself included)

03. Recognise and acknowledge your own fallibility, be curious, and ask questions!

Start small (ideally within your own team), create opportunities to be personal and vulnerable, and be honest with your feedback.

If you want to learn more on trust, communication and how to build a great team, check out these books:

🤝 Trust Factor

Transparency

💬 Communication

🌟 Smart Teams

At Perlego, we are always looking for talented humans to join our team. Check out our career page — you might find a perfect opportunity for you!

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