Trust & Teamwork – Multiplier effect within Teams

BY NAVEEN GATTU

From the Leaders’ Desks


“The best way to learn if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” – Ernest Hemingway

In the last 6 years of my journey with Gramener, I’ve spoken about Fun, Innovation & Trust (FIT) as the fundamental pillars of Gramener to more than 500 onboarded and potential onboardees of Gramener. I have also echoed with most of them the equally important principle – “we don’t need super heroes, we need team players”.

TRUST & TEAM WORK can have a profound impact in a startup, or for that matter any enterprise. They are almost inseparable, and create a great multiplier effect in an organization’s journey.

I have been personally involved in 2 other ventures prior to Gramener. One failed and one almost missed failure. I’m not a great RISK taker individually, but my appetite for risk multiplies when I have a team supporting me always. As you might expect, my 2 other ventures also had great teams.

I looked back and analyzed why we were not successful in spite of having a great team – We did not work as ONE TEAM & we lacked collective TRUST. All of us were in the same flight, but one was thinking of going to Australia and the other was thinking Canada. Your destination cannot be different when you have on boarded a flight. You’re bound to fail at some point of time.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford

No matter how smart, talented or passionate you are, your success as an entrepreneur or leader depends on your ability to build a great team.  Great teams are built on the foundation of trust.

Reading Stephen Covey’s ‘Speed of Trust’ left a great impression on me. Stephen Covey summarizes;

“Credibility boils down to two simple questions. First, do I trust myself? Second, am I someone who others can trust? Four “Cores” that are key to building credibility. The Four Cores are:

  1. Integrity,
  2. Intent,
  3. Capabilities, and
  4. Results.

Integrity and Intent are character cores. Capabilities and Results are competency cores.

All Four Cores are necessary for credibility. A person of integrity that does not produce results is not credible. If you are not credible, you are not trustworthy!”

As business leaders, it’s very important for us to be credible and to create an environment built on trust and that fosters teamwork.

None of us is as smart as all of us.” – Ken Blanchard

When a team operates in complete trust, it produces more than 100% of each individual. They are empowered, confident of their peers, not afraid to take risks – and collectively it has a multiplier effect. Trust allows you to delegate a task without worrying about whether it will get done. It allows for faster, more open communication, and gives people a sense that they truly belong within your organization.

In all teams, trust will be built and trust will be broken. Trust is driven by relationships and that too human relationships – ego, personalities, priorities, fears, excitement drive and influence. Trust is especially vulnerable during periods of rapid growth or change, or when the team is virtual.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” – Warren Buffett

Successful organizations have great leaders who unleash the power of teamwork. These leaders create a sense of ownership, driven by common purpose, unearth the strengths of teams and this results in each team member contributing more than 100% towards a collective objective. This is a multiplier effect practised successfully by most leaders and this is possible by creating a mutual TRUST environment as part of teams.

TRUST of Communication: Watch out for these in highly successful teams;

  • Information is exchanged amongst the teams openly
  • Truth is spoken without inhibition; I’m not searching for words to express with peers or managers
  • Mistakes are admitted without any fear, leverage them to avoid in future
  • Give and receive constructive feedback
  • In team meetings, you see wider participation than monologues or instructions
  • Active debates in solving problem, opinions are well received
  • Maintain confidentiality
  • Speak with positive spirit
  • Pro-active suggestions to improve the environment rather than waiting to be driven by one person

Pay attention to non-verbal communication. If you see a colleague withdrawn and not responding in his usual style, less participative in the discussions, do take an extra step to talk to him in an open manner to understand the concerns. Show transparency and genuine intent to solve the problem.

Conversely, when the crucial element of trust is compromised, people become withdrawn and disengaged. Their confidence in themselves and in others erodes, along with their commitment to their work and their organization. They wonder, “Do I belong here?”. Confidence is overshadowed by doubt: “Do I have what it takes?”. Commitment dwindles: “Is this the place for me?”.

We want people to come to work and bring their whole selves to work. We want to create a work environment where people want to show up and want to work, and this takes TRUST.

How can we foster TRUST in the environment? It’s not an easy task and needs to be practised diligently;

  • Develop People Skills. It’s our personality that instils trust.
  • Schedule time to build relationships. Do interact with peers in a regular fashion. If you see irritants, please take the first steps to talk and resolve. Don’t let your ego stop you from making the first move.
  • Manage your Boundaries. There is a thin line between professional and personal relationship. Try to balance the same always.
  • Appreciate others. Up, down, and across the organizational structure.
  • Openness. Provide as much information as you can comfortably divulge, as soon as possible in any situation.
  • Patience. You cannot let go of your emotions in your interactions. Once you show discontent and immaturity, it’s hard to build trust. Be patient in all situations.
  • Mutual Feedback. Do seek feedback always, and be ready to accept change in your behavior. Likewise, do give constructive feedback to your team.
  • Ongoing Team exercises. As a leader, do ensure you have as many team exercises (formal/informal) as possible as they are appropriate forums for teams to build relationship and have healthy debates.

“Trust is not a matter of technique, tricks, or tools but of character”.

When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.”

Stephen R. Covey

TRUST is built and maintained by many small actions over time. We can build trusting relationships and a culture of trust in our workplace. Trust is fragile but strengthens over time.

It is the relationships we forge—and the trust we create—that matters most to our success at the end of the day.

So, why should startups care about Culture?

By Ganes Kesari

From the Leaders’ Desks


Organizational culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner — Peter Drucker

An organization’s culture is that secret sauce that differentiates the best of companies from the rest. I have been intrigued by this concept and have been studying the influential role culture plays, in not just growth and scale, but also in deciding whether a company would stay afloat and see the light of the day.

From my experience of observing organizations small and large, I try and explain this with a simple parallel in this post, and trace the path to see how it forms at inception, what decides its evolution and when it could turn so dangerous that it warrants its destruction.

So, what is Organizational Culture? 

Is this what you put into your employee handbook or code-of-conduct? Is this influenced by what you carefully message in leadership emails and preach in your town hall meetings? Is this shaped by your marketing team’s top-dollar spends on branding and positioning?

No… all of the above may have short-term effects at best, but is unlikely to seep into the organizational culture, which is as deep as the human DNA. As a simple parallel, think of culture as equivalent to an individual’s character.

Character dictates how a person behaves, when no one is watching. It is something that comes naturally to a person, without any effort. It is a bundle of traits (say honesty, chivalry, self-respect..) that a person has formed over years, possibly since early childhood.

In a similar vein, Culture dictates how anyone in an organization behaves, when there is no oversight or managerial review. It is the natural way of addressing business-as-usual in every function or team. It is the set of qualities (say innovation, customer focus, empathy to employees..) that a company has formed & emphasized since its founding years.

Having defined culture, let us now trace its path over time…

I. Forming a Culture

Just like kids who learn the most in the initial 5 years after birth, an organization’s culture has its conception early on, in the initial months, when the founders are grappling with dire circumstances, for mere survival.

Surprisingly, the decisions taken by the founding team on whether to beg, borrow or steal to make ends meet, have repercussions much later. The core intent, ethos and actions are encapsulated and passed down, from a 5-member organization to a 500-member one, many many years later.

Fred Wilson summed this well in his post on Cultural differences:

“…the decisions a founder or founding team makes in the first few months of a company’s life are among the biggest decisions. They are setting their destiny in place, often without even realizing it.”

II. Evolving a Culture

Having formed fully in the initial years, culture then incrementally builds up in later years based on the philosophy and actions of the leadership team. Not very different from an individual who builds upon the innate character through his/her life experiences, and by exposure to new situations.

Simple ongoing decisions on how much the leadership trusts and empowers employees, the pains they take to make clients happy, how much they tolerate failure in the path to innovation, the integrity they hold while responding to difficult market forces: all of these have a profound influence on the entire organization.

The leader’s actions are taken as the unsaid word and mimicked down the line, much like how kids emulate their parents or their role-models through life. A leader must realize that with every small action taken in the apparent confines of one’s cubicle, he/she is actually playing out in the theatre of the company stage, in full glare of the entire organization and the employees.

Given that this is how culture incrementally gets shaped throughout the company’s journey, there is no obvious effect of any lip-service emails, town-hall proclamations or project-review posturing, if leaders live and act to the contrary. Ben Thomson in his excellent post The Curse of Culture, sums it well:

“…it can be argued that the only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture; that the unique talent of leaders is their ability to understand and work with culture.”

III. Destroying a Culture

Since culture forms much like the path cut on rock by water, by flowing consistently over the years, its a mammoth task to bring about any changes to it. After all, don’t we all struggle greatly when we attempt to change any of our deep ingrained habits? Similarly, there are way too many failures of org-wide change initiatives, of teams rejecting new leadership, or of organizations imploding when a massive change contravenous to its culture or DNA, is thrust upon it.

Just like individuals who must shed ill-formed habits before it grows monstrously to consume them, it is inevitable that organizations must reform in order to do a course-correction before its too late. And real change can happen only when its culture amends. Here again, it is the leadership’s prerogative to bring about this change, by destroying a part of the very culture that they were instrumental to create and shape.

There’s this excellent example of Steve Jobs’ first keynote as interim CEO in 1997 after he got back for his second stint, wherein he announced Apple’s shocking partnership with Microsoft. Years of Microsoft (and IBM) bashing by Jobs had seeped indelibly into Apple’s culture, and with Apple fighting for its survival and badly needing a lifeline, the same leader was now destroying this very trait.

That this was considered sacrilege by die-hard Apple supporters was amply demonstrated by the audience who booed so loudly that Jobs had to stop speaking. Looking back, this was such a marked departure from the fanboy response he received in his later keynotes.

But this was considered a brilliant leadership move by Jobs to slay the culture dragon that he had raised over the years, and which had then turned destructive to the extent of sinking the company. Ben Thomson continues in the same post:

“…it is an ultimate act of leadership to destroy culture when it is viewed as dysfunctional.. This ability to perceive limitations of one’s own culture and to evolve the culture adaptively is the essence & ultimate challenge of leadership.”

This is the most difficult task of all, since it requires slaying of the internal demons that have been lovingly nurtured as pets, over the years. This requires the leader to shed undesirable character traits, be vocal about it and repeatedly demonstrate through action that this is now out of bounds for every single person in the organization. This then the moves the needle for the organization to amend, albeit slowly.

Summary

In conclusion, culture is THE secret sauce of organizations, that is essential to not just make them successful and stand out in the market place, but is crucial for their very survival in the longer run.

And it is the primary responsibility of leadership to nurture the right traits, to lead by example, and resist the urge to live-by-the-quarter or just existentially focus on the next deal around the corner. They have a bigger duty to read the subliminal messages, slay the rising demonic traits early and shape the culture.

Much like an individual with an impeccable character, an organization primed with the right culture can charge-up the rank and file, unleash an unstoppable internal force and become a rising tide that can go on to conquer the world.