Whether your organization contains three people or three hundred, working together effectively requires that each person rely on and have confidence in the rest of the team. I’ve always found that the best way to build that trust is to keep communication open and transparent.
From an owner’s perspective, practicing open book management allows me to be straightforward and frank about expenses and revenue. I can make it clear, for example, that a marketing expense is higher than before because we’re investing in software that makes it easier for our salespeople to service their clients. My sales staff knows I’m behind them and that I’m spending the money accordingly. Even if, when times are tough, the information is negative, keeping team members informed cuts down on rumor and keeps people from guessing. It’s easier to endure difficult periods when everyone has a shared stake.
Openness helps in terms of personal interactions, too. Before staff meetings we always share good news, personal or professional, a tradition that not only starts things on a positive note, but helps team members to know a little more about each other. According to Patrick Lencioni, author of Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, another way to build trust is to share information about past struggles. Doing so helps repair the natural tendency we have to attribute negative behaviors to another person’s character (while attributing our own negative behavior to circumstances). In other words, we tend to think others do bad things because they’re bad people, but if we do something bad, it’s because we’ve been put in a difficult situation. Teams can avoid this “by getting to know one another and understanding personal histories and personality tendencies.”
I’m not suggesting that we overshare or discuss anything intimate. But talking about an interesting challenge or experience from when you were growing up, for example, can help your team understand your perspective and increase their confidence in you. In addition, showing vulnerability means you trust them, which makes them want to trust you in return. And that mutual dependence and confidence is what makes teams thrive.