You’ve probably had this experience. You are part of what looks like a dream team, working on a really cool mandate with some of the smartest people. Then, the dream falls apart. You end up getting the life sucked out of you by a couple of teammates, norms or behaviors that just drain the energy and motivation out of the group.
Most of us can also recall the reverse experience—starting a project or role without enthusiasm, maybe even dreading it. But somehow our interactions with our colleagues generated interest and shaped meaningful objectives. Everyone was engaged, the team came together, and we were excited to be a part of it.
What is the difference?
Our work over more than twenty years shows it is the quality of the relationships—not the caliber of the talent or the nature of the work—that drives engagement in a team. And broadly, when employees experience trust, purpose and a sense of energy in their network, they are more likely to be high performers, give greater effort, report higher engagement and stay longer in the organization.
I suspect this has always been true, but in today’s dynamic organizations, where teams form and reform rapidly, developing high-quality relationships is both more critical and more difficult. Building trust, creating purpose and generating energy can’t be left to chance or to develop over time among colleagues.
Our work with successful leaders has identified specific behaviors that help trust, purpose and energy to form rapidly and flow through teams and networks.
First, create a foundation of trust. Three forms of trust matter. Without benevolence-based trust (you have my interests in mind), people are reluctant to put forth and debate new or different ideas and perspectives. Without competence-based trust (you are able to do what you say), people don’t value the feedback and insights that they receive and so don’t bother to share their ideas. Without integrity-based trust (you are consistent in word and deed), people’s defenses go up and they become disengaged.
Ten behaviors contribute to the degree people trust an individual or feel that trust is established within a team. Fortunately, most of us are not operating with zero trust! I suggest identifying just one or two things that if you did them more systematically—especially when under stress or pressure—could have a positive impact on the team. Just a few changes help trust form more rapidly, and the payoff is significant. The trust behaviors are:
- We readily turn to each other for transparent, credible expertise.
- We acknowledge areas in which we are not experts.
- We create rich interactions at key points in projects.
- We actively encourage all team members to critique and improve our ideas.
- We offer time, resources, information, referrals, insights and assistance to each other before we ask for help and without expectation of benefit.
- We connect to each other off-task, seeking to understand each team member’s background, interests and aspirations.
- We consistently communicate our values and priorities within the team.
- We do what we say we are going to do and follow through on commitments we make to each other and our project.
- We are committed to team principles and goals that are larger than our individual self-interest.
- We are discreet, keeping confidential or revealing information to ourselves.
Then, cultivate a sense of purpose. While organization mission or meaningful tasks may be motivating, our research shows meaningful collaboration creates purpose. The conviction that work being done has meaning and impact is cultivated through 11 purpose-instilling behaviors.Again, choosing one thing to focus on with your team can have an outsized impact. The purpose behaviors are:
- We help our teammates clarify and pursue meaningful career objectives.
- We structure work to best align with each team member’s career aspirations.
- We establish the importance of work (the why) before the tactics for accomplishing it (the what or the how).
- We co-create solutions and diffuse ownership across the team early.
- We encourage each other to be attuned to and synchronized with the demands our teammates face.
- We show appreciation for each other’s work.
- We encourage fun in work.
- We reframe negative interactions to focus on work worth doing.
- We encourage teammates to find purpose by helping each other.
- We address how to collaborate at a pace and in cycles that allow each team member to work at their best.
- We help teammates to find purpose in their work through networks inside and outside the organization.
Always, generate energy in day-to-day interactions. Energy is that quality that creates engagement and enthusiasm within a team or group. It motivates others to bring their best selves to work, fully contribute and collaborate with colleagues. Importantly, being an energizer is not about personality. It is about making other people feel like they matter through 6 behaviors. As a result, energizers foster the flow of information, opportunities, talent and creativity.
Teams, as well as individuals, can choose to be energizing or de-energizing in their interactions. Consider sharing this list with your team. Decide as a group what 1 or 2 things are most important, commit to them and hold each other accountable. The energy behaviors are:
- In meetings and on-on-one conversations, we engage in realistic possibilities that capture each other’s imaginations and hearts.
- We are fully engaged in meetings and one-on-one conversations and show interest in our teammates and their ideas.
- We create room for all team members to be a meaningful part of conversations and make sure they see how their efforts contribute to an evolving plan.
- When we disagree with a decision or course of action, we do so in a way that focuses attention on the issue at hand and not the individual.
- We use humor—often at our own expense—to lighten tense moments or remove unnecessary status or politics from our team interactions.
- We maintain an effective balance between pushing toward a goal and welcoming new ideas that can improve the project or the process for reaching a goal.
Through these behaviors, the social and collaborative characteristics of high-performing teams get created. By holding yourself and others to these behaviors, you establish trust, purpose and energy in compressed or intense timeframes and bring out the very best of your team.
Take a deeper look at the role of trust, purpose and energy in creating effective collaboration in teams and across groups in our article A Noble Purpose Alone Won’t Transform Your Company. And use our Performance and Engagement Online Assessment or Card Deck to help map out next steps for you and your team.Share!