A collaborative climate is most commonly described in the adage, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Teams operating in a truly collaborative climate work well together; trust is a mainstay virtue.
Trust is produced in a climate that includes three elements:
- Honesty (i.e., integrity and truthfulness);
- Consistency (i.e., predictable behavior and responses); and
- Respect (i.e., treating people with dignity and fairness).
The hallmarks of a collaborative climate can be defined in the following way:
- Team members work well together;
- The team has a structure that is clear and well–defined; and
- Team members respect and trust one another.
The ability for team members to trust one another is the foundation of a collaborative climate. To assess whether team members fully trust one another, consider the following questions and issues:
- Do we trust that we are all working toward the same end and are not seeking individual gain, but rather are working toward the collective goals of the group?
- Do we trust that each member is equally invested and is willing to be an active participant and contributor to our work, or do we fear that we are going to produce and others will not?
- Do we trust that if things start to go wrong that everyone is going to stand together to try to turn things around and address whatever issues that arise as a collective entity? Or do we fear that someone is going to stand on the sidelines, point fingers, or assign individual blame for our problems?
In sum, trust is a central, foundational aspect of effective collaboration. Without it, teams are likely to face insurmountable difficulty in conducting their work. Team members may not feel free to voice their opinions, commit to work assignments, challenge one another when necessary, or embrace a collective work process. These problems can be avoided, however, by making a concerted effort to enhance trust among group members. Although this may be a difficult process for those who have not worked as members of a collaborative team in the past, a failure to establish trust will only impede the work of the team.
What are some ways that trust can be enhanced?
- Team members must be willing to be honest with one another. Being honest
translates into being forthcoming, forgoing exaggerations, demonstrating
personal integrity, being willing to accept and not to cover up or minimize
mistakes, and possibly most important, not ignoring any “elephants” that
may be in the room. In other words, being open with one another is a
critical component to establishing trust. Team members will appreciate
honest observations that are shared in a respectful way. Ignoring problems
that may be unspoken, but that are obvious to anyone in the room, is
a critical mistake that teams often make. It is preferable to address
issues that are affecting any member of the team, rather than simply
avoiding the problem and hoping it will resolve itself in time.
- Team members must also be open and willing to share and receive. This
means stepping outside of our traditional “comfort zones” and
being willing to listen to different perspectives and ideas that we may
not have considered before. After all, we selected diverse team members
to ensure that a wide variety of perspectives were represented. So it
should be seen as positive when divergent points of view emerge. Remember
that the perspectives of other team members is as important as your own,
and that participating as a member of a collaborative team can teach
us about how other disciplines may be impacted by a particular problem,
or what their ideas are about how the problem might be resolved. Being
open to not only sharing thoughts and ideas, but also to take in information
that has not previously been considered—or may even have been resisted—is
part of our obligation to the team.
- The notion of consistency also helps to enhance trust. Being consistent
does not mean that team members should never change their minds, but
rather that they agree to behave in ways that are predictable, responsible,
and reliable. Doing so helps team members know what to expect from one
another and establishes expected parameters for how members will behave
and interact with one another.
- Finally, team members must always demonstrate respect for one another. Our teammates should always be treated with dignity and fairness—not only in our spoken language, but also in our non–verbal or body language. Respecting opinions different from our own may be a challenge at times, but doing so is a vital part of establishing and maintaining trust. Every team member deserves the same respect that we expect for ourselves.
One of the ways that teams can begin to engender this kind of trust is to generate ground rules for their work together. Ground rules should be developed as a full team during one of its initial work sessions together. These rules are a written agreement for how team members will conduct themselves and work together as a group. They will provide not only a framework for future interactions, but also a way to help you create the kind of environment that members want to work in.
Click here for a teamwork exercise that will guide your team in the development of ground rules.