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  • Rebecca Harris

So many great teams exist in a Bubble

Updated: Dec 4, 2019

One of the keys to bringing teams together and unlocking the flow of work from idea to Value is collaboration. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

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So why do so many organisations struggle to create an environment, a culture, and a way of working that supports everyone to exist in the same bubble?

Perhaps collaboration is a little harder than we thought. Maybe there is a foundation layer required that enables collaboration.

When researchers studied organisations with evidence of sustained collaboration the following common mental attitudes were present:

- widespread respect for colleagues’ contributions,
- openness to experimenting with others’ ideas,
- and sensitivity to how one’s actions may affect both colleagues’ work and the mission’s outcome. - Gino

Sounds a lot like they had learnt to Trust and Be Trustworthy. Is it worth building a culture based on Trust?

Harvard researcher, Paul J. Zak discovered that "compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout." His research and findings are published in "The Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High Performing Companies"

He also found 8 strategies that contribute to building a strong culture of trust.

1. Recognise excellence.

Timely recognition soon after an event has a positive impact on trust. If this is done in a public forum it can have a positive impact on others motivation as well. My only caution here is being aware of the individual personalities and make a judgement call on whether public or private recognition is appropriate. Introverts may find public naming excruciating. I have learnt this the hard way when I completely misjudged a member of my team in the past.

2. Employ SMART goals

Setting challenging but attainable goals creates positive stress levels. Just enough stress to release oxytocin and andrenocorticotropin. But not too much that the person feels overwhelmed and unable to cope. This chemical change results in greater focus and deeper collaboration. SMART Goals are described as Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Sensitive.

3. Provide Employees autonomy

I think we have all experienced that feeling of empowerment and trust when a leader provides us with the vision and expectations and lets us work out ‘how’ to achieve it. Autonomy over work conditions communicates to your employees that leadership trusts you. A Citigroup and LinkedIn survey found that nearly half of employees would forfeit a 20% raise for greater control over how they approach their work, from day to day.

4. Enable job crafting

Trusting employees to choose what they work on including encouraging self-organising teams has shown to contribute to employee performance and staff retention. As the agile manifesto states:

"The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organising teams"

5. Share openly with all.

Employees want to know they are part of something bigger. Regular communication of the vision and how employee’s day to day activities contribute to that is critical to building employee loyalty and trust.

“Uncertainty about the company’s direction leads to chronic stress, which inhibits the release of oxytocin and undermines teamwork. Openness is the antidote.” Zak

The most effective communication is face to face. Research has shown that nonverbal cues or body language along with facial expressions, tone of voice and body stance account for almost 55% of all the communication that takes place. When face to face communication isn’t practical we have a number of other channels available to keep the information flowing.

6. Intentionally build relationships.

I think most of us grew up in a culture that encouraged us to separate work and friendships. Studies like Google Oxygen found that leaders “must go beyond overseeing the day-to-day work and support their employees’ personal needs, development, and career planning.” Google’s later research coined Project Aristotle went further and discovered Psychological safety was the common ingredient across high performing teams — “conversational turn-taking and empathy — are part of the same unwritten rules we often turn to, as individuals, when we need to establish a bond. And those human bonds matter as much at work as anywhere else. In fact, they sometimes matter more.”

7. Invest in the whole person’s growth

Immense trust can be built when leaders demonstrate they are genuinely interested in and support employees to develop both professionally and personally. This could be enabling work-life balance, pursuit of skills that are not directly related to their current role and providing consistent feedback on progress. This holistic investment has been shown to contribute to staff retention.

8. Show vulnerability.

Brene Brown has recently shone a light on choosing “Courage” over “Comfort” in our interactions in our life and work. Her recent book Daring Greatly encourages us to find the courage to be vulnerable in a world where everyone wants to appear strong, confident and on top of things.

As a leader, we can demonstrate vulnerability in a number of ways. It might be having the courage to tell your team that you don’t necessarily have all the answers to succeed and you want to work with the team to figure it out together.

Zak's research found that this level of vulnerability increases trust and cooperation in others because it stimulates oxytocin production.

Trust is something we can practise each day. Imagine how quickly we would burst those small bubbles and become 1 big team bubble if we choose ‘growth’ over ‘safety.’

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What actions do you take every day that helps build trust in your organisation?


1. Brown, Brene (2015), Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Penguin Random House

2. Duhigg Charles (2016), What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team,

3. Garvin, David A (2013), How google sold its engineers on Management,, Harvard Business Review (December)

4. Gino, Francesca (2019), Cracking the code of Sustained collaboration,

5. Levin, Marissa (2017), 8 Ways to Build a Culture of Trust Based on Harvard's Neuroscience Research,

6. Society of Endocrinology, Cortisol,

7. Zak, Paul J (2017), The Neuroscience of Trust,, Harvard Business Review (January-February)

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