Vivek Tiwari’s experience is in the area of sales, operations, management consulting, and a large part of his career has been in the field of Leadership Capability Development. He has worked with Global and Indian MNCs, including a Big 4, as well as been a founding team member of a technology-based talent startup. He has worked with organizations like PwC, American Express and HCL. His last corporate assignment was Regional Head (APJC) for Amazon in their Global Talent Management function where one of his responsibilities was to set up a regional coaching practice. His academic background is in business administration and applied psychology. He has done consulting for different industries like BFSI, Automobile, Pharma, IT/ITES etc. for more than a decade.
“What is the one thing at the leadership level that is bothering you?”- is the question that I usually ask CEOs/CXOs. Quite often the answer is “our inability at a team level to build deeper levels of trust”.
The impact is huge as the leadership team is not able to present a cohesive face to the stakeholders and at some level, is too isolated and therefore not invested in each other’s success therefore the multiplier effect is missing. This phenomenon has gained prominence, especially in teams that were constituted in the last 24 months and a large part of the interactions have been in virtual mode. Now when return to office is initiated in a lot of organizations, the leaders can visibly sense the lack of trust/low levels of trust within the teams. Our work in this area for the last several years has taught us a few things when it comes to sowing the seeds of trust within a team of accomplished/experienced professionals. We arrived at three critical aspects that can initiate trust-building.
Discovering and connecting at a deeper level
Knowing each other as individuals who have travelled their respective life journeys and have certain aspirations, exploring the events and individuals that have impacted us, and knowing our inner compass of decision making as well as some of our longings. All of these and many more such aspects, when discovered and discussed together, allow people to understand and connect with each other and at times find a shared connection either in the past or in the imagined future. Discussions around life journey at times open facets about individuals to other team members and make them understand why a certain leader behaves in a particular manner or values a particular quality. It gives a sneak peek into their peers, who perhaps to date have just been professionals for them, with illustrious career track records. It sows the seeds of empathy and understanding amongst the group members.
Understanding and leveraging each other’s source of inner energy
Leadership roles are demanding as well as challenging. Often, these roles can subject individuals and teams to fatigue and stress. To combat it effectively and to do justice to such roles consistently, one needs to often tap into the inner source of energy. What is my mojo, what energises me to the core, and what gets the best out of me? what am I eager to offer, even if it’s not a part of my role- a lot of these questions when explored, allow leaders to know collectively what the forte of their team is and more importantly what everyone’s superpower is. It then prepares the ground for leveraging each other at the time of need, knowing fully well in which quarter of my peer group a certain kind of strength resides, and it is this kind of work that also energises my colleague and therefore it acts like a win-win. Slowly we find “having each other’s backs” becomes the team culture and the by-product is an energised team.
Exploring and sharing vulnerabilities without the fear of being misjudged
In our experience, this is the litmus test of whether the ground is fertile enough for trust building or not. How comfortably the leaders are willing to share their vulnerabilities e.g., what irritates them, what disengages them etc. As professionals the comfort of telling one another what aspect of each other’s personality or ways of working creates discomfort can act as a catharsis, however, it must be done in a manner that doesn’t make the other person defensive and therefore leveraging creativity to make this part funny is often a preferred method. When we work with our clients in this area we bank heavily on the quote “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you”. Also, this step should come only when the first two steps are completed with the Leadership Team, else this may result in a catastrophe.
Once the first three steps are done and the veneer of ‘just mature and seasoned professionals’ is blown away, leaders can use other common and useful aspects prevalent in the corporates like skills, processes, technology etc, to further bolster the already established trust levels. In our view, the first three steps infuse life into the otherwise inanimate aspects that organizations most often rely on to establish deep trust.
The value of building deeper levels of trust is perhaps best captured in a quote from Warren Bennis – “Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.”