Trust is an essential ingredient for healthy and prosperous relationships. And certainly one of the key themes of our VerifyNow podcast.
In this first episode, we discuss the neuroscience of conversation and its role in building trust in the workplace.
We also explore what it means to have a high value-creating team:
To help us get the message across, our guest today is Sarit Vandegraaf, a highly experienced organisational coach and facilitator who has worked with leaders from a cross-section of industries here in Australia and abroad.
Sarit is certified in Conversational Intelligence and a certified professional coach with the International Coaching Federation.
Connect with Khai on LinkedIn:
YouTube Channel: HR Think Tank
00:00:00 – Sarit’s Introduction
00:01:06 – What is a High Value-Creating Team?
00:02:18 – High Value-Creating Team VS an Average Team
00:03:35 – Why have a High Value-Creating Team?
00:04:22 – Burnout and Sustainability
00:05:53 – The Neuroscience of Conversation
00:09:24 – Fostering Trust
00:12:33 – Creating Psychological Safety
00:15:42 – How do you Create a High Value-Creating Team?
00:21:10 – Being a Manager VS Being a Leader
00:23:45 – Leadership and Self-Reflection
00:26:57 – Steps Leaders Can Take Towards Self-Reflection
00:31:42 – Fast Five Questions
00:32:53 – Outro
A High-Value Creating Team is a term coined by Professor Peter Hawkins.
Peter Hawkins is a leadership professor at Henley Business School in the UK, and he’s done a lot of work around:
- team development;
- what makes the team high performing; and
- high value-creating.
And what he found was that quite often, when we’re looking at teams, we’re looking at the team on its own – as its own entity. So, a high-performing team is often very inward-looking.
You’ve got highly successful individuals working together, sometimes towards a shared goal.
A high value-creating team is where we are working as a team with and for our stakeholders. So we are working within an ecosystem that includes stakeholders, the organisation, and the individuals.
So, essentially, a high value-creating team looks at:
- What are we actually here to do as a team?
- What is our purpose?
- And what is our commission as a team to create?
Q: What would you say are the differences from a communication and accountability perspective between a high value-creating team and an average team?
One of the significant differences is that when you’re looking at team performance and they have great team meetings, for example, and everyone feels motivated and excited, an average team would then walk away from that team meeting and become the head of whatever department that they’re the head of.
From there, they’ll then develop their own communication style and represent themselves.
With a high value-creating team, what happens after those great team meetings is that we’re actually representing the team’s brand in everything that we do.
So, it’s easy to be high performing and have great conversations as a team.
But what happens after we have those team interactions when we are not together with our team (when we’re here in the organisation, in the ecosystem with our own separate groups) in terms of communication and passing on a united front message?
So that’s one aspect of a high value-creating team that’s different.
The answer is in the value.
Whether it’s in the purpose sector or the corporate sector, all organisations create value for our customers and our clients.
We want our teams to create value so that we can pass on that value to our customers and our clients.
It just sets the environment up for better working relationships, clarity of the process and task.
We are learning together and growing together as a team. And then, of course, everyone else benefits. So really, the answer is in the word value.
Q: How do you make having a high value-creating team sustainable? Would there be a greater risk of burnout? And how do you ensure, as a business leader or as a team leader, that you can sustain that energy level?
Absolutely! It’s one of my big passions in life! As you mentioned earlier, I’m certified in Conversational Intelligence.
Judith E. Glaser founded the basis of conversational intelligence.
She maintains that conversational intelligence comes from the fact that all of our conversations with other people, whether big or small, are chemical in nature. And that’s what she refers to as the neuroscience of conversations.
Some conversations might raise and regulate a chemical called cortisol, which is our stress chemical. When our brain is flooded with cortisol, we feel stressed and overwhelmed, so we might walk away from that conversation with a negative experience coming from fear.
On the other hand, some conversations raise a chemical called oxytocin, which is a bonding chemical. There’ll be loads of oxytocin between individuals who are connecting and talking to each other.
The reason why that’s important is that to be at our most creative, most productive, most innovative and our most trusting, we need to have a prefrontal cortex engaged, which is the front of our brain.
A lot of people call it the executive brain.
If we are coming from a place of fear, we are engaging the primitive brain, which is at the back of the brain. The primitive part of our brain hasn’t changed much since we were cavemen. So, if we’re engaging from that part of our brain, our conversations will be based on fear.
What’s more, low trust lives in the primitive brain. The role of trust is crucial because it actually changes our reality.
For example, if I’m receiving some feedback from two different people and one of the people is someone I trust implicitly, the feedback they’re giving me would then be taken as a source of development and opportunity for growth.
If the other person gives me the same feedback in the same tone, but my trust in them is low, I will take their feedback as a personal attack or potentially even as an insult.
So they would have given me the feedback in precisely the same way, but one I would take as an opportunity for growth and one I would take as an attack. And the only difference between those two people is the trust I have in them.
So, when we take that into an organisation or even into leadership, the role of trust is crucial.
Of course, as a leader and as an organisation, I want my team to be productive, innovative, engaged and creative, so I’ll need to trust them to take some risks, experiment and make decisions.
But the team can only do that if they feel that there’s psychological safety and trust. For example, failure can be an opportunity to learn instead of an experience where blame or judgement is passed.
And so, as a leader, you need to ensure that you build trust with your team so that they can perform to the best of their abilities and as the best version of themselves.
Q: What are the key actions that leaders can take every day with their team to help foster that trust?
First of all, leaders need to build rapport. And building rapport is not just, “Hi, how are you going?”
Building rapport is about thinking of the environment that we’re in. For example:
- Are you going to have a cup of coffee with your team members outside of the office?
- Are you going to take an interest in their day-to-day lives?
- Do you actually know what motivates them and what inspires them to do good work?
Knowing your team and building rapport is the first foundational level. The next step involves consistency in your leadership abilities.
If you say that you’re going to do something and then follow it up with that action, then that builds trust – people trust that you’ll complete the task you said you’ll be doing.
It’s also about showing up in terms of your emotional and social intelligence:
- What happens to you under stress, and how do you show up under pressure when you’re overwhelmed as a leader?
- Does it mean you take out your frustration and stress on the people around you?
- Does it mean that you shut down?
- Do your team need to walk on eggshells because they don’t know what mood you’re going to be in on any particular day?
So, that self-reflection and self-awareness are key in leadership in terms of building trust.
Lastly, you need to keep confidentialities. I’ve come across very lovely, charismatic, and social leaders, but they couldn’t keep confidentialities – and that’s a massive trust issue.
There’s a wonderful Dutch proverb that I came across through a colleague that says that “trust leaves on horseback and comes back on foot.”
When it comes to the foundation of trust, one of the analogies that I use is the trust bank account.
We need to make deposits of trust, relationships and so forth. Now, if I’ve got enough of a savings plan, then the small withdrawals of trust won’t make too much of a difference because the trust savings are there to back me up. But, I haven’t made enough of those deposits, and I make a withdrawal, then it’s a lot harder for me to recoup and get back into that trusting relationship and that rapport.
Psychological safety is something that’s been talked about a lot over the last year. But certainly, over the last sort of five years, it’s really come up to the surface.
I think, however, that it’s a concept that’s not understood correctly.
Many people think that psychological safety is just about the culture in terms of having good relationships. A lot of organisations have great cultures on the surface. But psychological safety is much deeper than that.
People need to feel safe:
- to make mistakes; and
- from those failures and mistakes, which are actually how we learn and grow.
If your team feels safe and the organisation’s culture encourages that, they have an environment in which they can learn and grow.
What I find in many organisations is that people are afraid to make decisions because they don’t feel psychologically safe to make those decisions.
So, rather than make those decisions, they either procrastinate or they’ll approach someone else to decide for them so that when push comes to shove, they can then point the finger at that person.
That creates quite an unhealthy environment to work in.
Psychological safety lives in the prefrontal cortex, which, once again, relies on trust. And so, if trust exists and if there’s a culture of trust within the organisation, then I know that I’m safe to make those mistakes and speak up without fear.
So, if your team can make mistakes and be candid, then I think that’s a really good measure that psychological safety is alive and well in the organisation.
Every organisation will be very different.
For example, some organisations will be more inclined to come back into the office and work physically together. While other organisations are happy to keep working from home because they’ve established that it works. On the other hand, you’ll have some organisations that want to combine the two.
It will depend on the clientele and the line of work they’re doing, and what works best for them. And so, it needs to be both organisation centric and people-centric.
So when COVID-19 hit, the focus was on making sure that people were okay. There was no way around it – everyone had to go and work from home. And so, as leaders, we had to make sure that people were okay, that they were set up fine, and that we were checking in with them.
As time went on and companies realised that things are changing and they had a little more choice on the matter, leaders could shift their focus to thinking about the organisation. The task at hand was now establishing how to focus on the organisation’s productivity levels and the individual’s well-being.
More often than not, when an organisation focuses on establishing great teams, they look at team dynamics and how to bond the team through off-site trips and things like that. While that’s absolutely necessary for team bonding, it’s not enough. The focus shouldn’t stop there.
There needs to be a systemic lens that is applied to this if there’s going to be high value-creating within the organisation’s ecosystem.
So, Professor Peter Hawkins speaks about a few disciplines of high value-creating teams:
- First, he talks about the commissioning phase and the stakeholder lens: the stakeholders are the ones who are commissioning the team to do the work. The purpose of the team comes from stakeholders. So, the team needs to look from the outside in.
- The second discipline is found in the clarifying phase: the team needs to establish answers to what their role is, what their job description is, who forms part of the team and who makes the decisions.
- The last one is about learning and growing as a team: the sum of all parts is knowing how the team will drive the purpose forward and make things work together, as opposed to individually.
So, the disciplines that guide the high value-creating team are systemic and involve the whole organisation in the ecosystem.
When we put this model onto something like a hybrid working environment or an environment where the team either works at the office or at home, the organisation can’t ignore the disciplines.
In the clarifying phase, consideration will need to be given to factors such as:
- who works from home and how often they’ll be working from home;
- when certain people come into the office; and
- what are the circumstances in which the team will work?
It’s more important now than ever that if the entire team is going to come into work, there is a focus on reconnecting because things aren’t the same as what they used to be – there needs to be adaptation within the ecosystem.
A lot of leaders that I come across definitely show up more as managers. And that’s not a bad thing because management is an essential function in leadership.
So, we have to be good managers to be good leaders as well. But, management is focused on the administrative part of leadership. So, it’s about:
- making sure that the right people are in the right place; and
- making sure that there are policies, procedures and processes available.
Whereas leadership is more about the people – “how am I inspiring my people and motivating and engaging them to do the work?”
And so, leaders need to be self-aware:
- they need to understand how they’re showing up; and
- they need to understand the impact that they have on their people.
There’s a great article published in the Harvard Business Review that covers over-managed, under-led organisations and what the differences are.
If we only have leadership without management, people are confused. They don’t understand what is expected of them and what their roles are.
They might be inspired, but they won’t really know what they have to do.
There needs to be a balance between creativity and autonomy, but also the clarification and the boundaries. If the leader knows what the expectations are, what the organisation is trying to achieve, and what the stakeholders are looking for, it’ll be clear where they fit in and how they can be creative and experiment with their team.
Q: Why is it important for leaders to have a high degree of self-awareness and the ability for self-reflection?
Leadership is about showing up and acknowledging it’s a privilege to be a leader.
Many leaders don’t realise how much impact they have on their team, not just at work but also outside of work.
So, self-awareness is key because if you know what drives and motivates you and what triggers you, you can develop a level of social intelligence. Social intelligence helps your awareness of what’s going on for other people when coming into the workplace.
Self-awareness is, thus, the foundation of leadership.
Self-awareness takes a lot of self-reflection, which can be quite a difficult thing for leaders, especially when tackling issues they don’t necessarily want to address.
Leaders need to shine the torch in dark corners to have a look at what’s lurking there because that will help them establish what they need to reflect and work on. By working on yourself, you can be the best version of the leader that you want to be for your team.
It’ll also encourage your team to do the same.
So, leadership is not about just leading other people. It’s about leading yourself, first and foremost, and then leading others.
Q: If you're new to leadership and stepping into a leadership role for the first time, what would be some simple actions that these new leaders can take to begin their journey of self-reflection and self-awareness?
I would suggest working on your ability to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness allows you to be calm and sit with your own thoughts.
This is often different for many people, so you’ll need to establish the best way to be mindful. There are several apps that you can use as a guide to being more mindful.
Then, I would highly recommend getting a coach.
While some individuals are excellent at coaching themselves and sitting with their reflections, a majority of people just need a nudge.
A good coach will provide a safe and trusting environment in which you can challenge your own self and ask those thought-provoking questions. So, if you want to commit to growing as a leader and being the best version of yourself, then employing a really good coach to help you with that self-reflection.
Another helpful suggestion is to journal.
Judith E. Glaser was very much an advocate of journaling your thoughts. Journaling thoughts can be different for different people. For example, some may draw, while others will simply write things down. Some people might prefer to record their thoughts on their iPhone and then listen back to that. It’s all about what works for you and what will get you to that self-reflection stage.
Some people also enjoy reflecting while listening to podcasts and Ted Talks or reading self-help exercise books.
There’s a wonderful book called Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine, which provides a guide to looking at your internal saboteurs and allows you to write the steps down that you used to get to that point.
- What was your first job? Customer service in a shop called “Stacks Discounts.”
- What’s something interesting that is not on your CV? I’m a massive Kate Bush fan. I have been known to dance in a red dress in The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever with thousands of other Kate Bush lookalikes.
- What advice would you give your eighteen-year-old self? Stay true to yourself, and trust your gut.
- What book is a must-read? A Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl.
- What’s a job for the future that doesn’t exist today? I think many psychologists are going to specialise in children’s screen addiction and the impact screen time has on them.