Here they are:
1. What is one thing I can do to get better feedback about (a particular aspect of) my own performance, my leadership or my relationships with others?
2. What is one thing I can do to show more vulnerabilty and ask for help (in a particular area) where I know I need to grow?
3. What is one thing I can do to contribute to (an aspect of) how we make and execute decisions as a team?
4. What is one thing I can do (on a specific issue or with a specific person) to operate more collaboratively?
5. What is one thing I can do to put a (specific) hard issue on the table and work on it with others in a constructive way?
6. What is one thing I can to better appreciate and affirm the talents and accomplishments of a (specific) team mate?
You will notice that the trust that is being ignited, first and foremost, is your own. You will notice that the questions all begin with the words, “What is one thing I can do…?” You will notice that the questions ask you to fill in issues or people, not speak in generalities. (You might also notice that these questions happen to align with the six areas rated by a free survey I created on developing team trust.)
Wouldn’t it be incredible if everyone in a team you are part of regularly asked these questions of themselves — and it was okay for team members to talk openly about their answers? Think of the powerhouse group that could create: A team where people regularly ask for feedback, acknowledge the areas they need to grow, asking for and offering help to one another. A team in which people are constantly are at work improving their decision-making processes, making them increasingly transparent and accountable. A team where people are constantly in the process of learning to collaborate with one another while putting hard issues on the table and working them through. A team where people genuinely appreciate and support one another.
A team, as a result, with an amazing level of trust, and a similarly amazing synergy in performance and innovation.
If you and your group don’t do enough of this kind of questioning, do not despair. Most groups do not. The real or underlying question is whether we actually understand the true power of the questions we can ask ourselves and our teams.
It turns out, following the dynamics of how our brains actually work, asking such questions opens the way to building new neuron pathways. Regularly asking and answering such questions liberates the possibilities for new learning — as individuals and as workplace communities. And new learning actually…wait for it…makes us smarter.
It can also, I would say — if we ask the right questions — deepen us as human beings, as well.
But there are some critical pieces to this questioning work. The questions need to focus on specific actions, they needs to be positive, and they need to be about you, not so much others. Why is that? Well, specificity and the actual doing are the catalysts to changes in the brain, not, as it turns out, general discussions or commentary about what others should do. That shouldn’t be any surprise. Questions about what we should do, are okay, too, but they are often less the place to begin than the more personal self-questions. The self-questions invite disclosure in a more concrete way.
There are reasons why we keep things so general as to be indirect and focused on others rather than ourselves. Sometimes, we say it is to protect others. Sometimes we also use it to protect ourselves from taking too many risks at work. But mainly, it only protects the gated community called “the status quo.” I don’t mean the status quo, organizationally, out there, but the one in here; the one that has to do with how you or I define who we are and how we will live. Asking ourselves, answering ourselves and one another, and acting on our discovered answers radically challenges that status quo. People often tell me that for their team (or their whole organization) to improve, it is up to others — someone else — to change and grow.
Do you see what I mean, how that’s pretty much a vote for the status quo?
What I’ve seen within teams where even a few members begin with themselves is that they can build toward major energy for collective change. One person’s willingness to become vulnerable can trigger another’s felt need, as well. In the end, those who seem most recalcitrant or invested in their own private Idaho can gradually come forward. Sometimes these folks reveal extraordinary things in the process — why, for example, they’ve hesitated; what’s happened to them in the past that now causes them to be careful; competitive or mistrustful conditioning from other organizational environments; even feelings, perhaps, that they may not deserve to be part of such a powerful and open team environment. My point is that the whole resistance thing over time can begin to melt. Patience, persistence and offering a sense of inclusion to every person, however much that individual can disclose at the start, is key.
Here’s a diagram produced for a team I worked with a long time ago. They did some work in line with the exercises in this paper to look at the light and dark sides of their team participation — essentially their gifts and shadows that were part of their mutual relationships. The diagram shows how negative, stressed, or defensive behavior on the shadow side could start with anyone but how it became mutually triggering. Soon enough everyone would be involved.
But if the downside group behavior (in this case, mainly blocked decisions) is the result of mutual triggering, so too is more positive behavior — it just typically takes a little longer and needs to be more consciously applied. And the good news is, it can come with the questions that I’ve listed here when individuals in a team intentionally take on the work of group trust-building. A question, asked of yourself, is like a candle. Lighting yours encourages others.
And pretty soon, if you stick with it, if you are truly willing to change your own status quo, you can find yourself in a room filled with light.