Better ways of working unwind the journey towards formal relationships, and build personal trust

When organisations were small, everyone knew each other, and saw the person behind the colleague. Our primate brains could cope with that level of familiarity with a smallish number of people. We were able to understand each person’s personality and their likelihood to follow through on their promises. We knew who we could trust, and when they saw us as people too, we all became us rather than those people over there or the people in $department or worst of all, the faceless mailbox preceded by a tilde that never responds to us.

As organisations grew, our primate brains struggled to maintain this knowledge of the individual people. We fell back on formal structures. Roles. Processes. And as growth became associated with success, we convinced ourselves that it was the formal structures that made us successful. So that even when most people we actually interacted with were close enough to treat as individuals, we treated them as resources. Instead of asking Can Sarah work on this? And we’re probably going to need some of Sally’s time too we asked for One and a half additional resources – hoping that this time, we’d get the half with the brains in.

Even the people resources we worked with regularly became them, and we only trusted them to deliver because the process said they should. If we’re delivering, then there’s no personal commitment; only our role profile. If we failed to deliver on time and with excellence, perhaps the process is broken somehow. But it doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things.

Better ways of working unwind this dysfunction.

David Marquet describes one of his first orders on taking command of his new submarine as instructing the entire crew: everyone on the boat is “Us” and seeing how that dramatically increased collaboration. Similarly, Stanley McChrystal instructed his large command to work together, so that no team was ever seen as those people way over there.

The joy of running frequent Big Room Planning events is seeing solutions and dependencies defined and agreed on a handshake. That delivering on those is now a matter of personal commitment and honour between colleagues, who understand each others’ needs and constraints.

Amplifying this is a key responsibility of a leader who hopes to gain the benefit of new ways of working. I had a previous manager at CA who’s first team building activity was for each of us to prepare 2 slides on ourselves. One slide was about work skills and experience, but the one we spent most time one was ourselves as individuals. Seeing the individual human with hopes, dreams, passions. To reciprocate, some managers put together a little readme.txt.

As I have just inherited a team of consultants in my new role, I’m stealing both ideas with absolutely no shame whatsoever.

Leader takeaway:
Build personal relationships within your team, and with individuals in other teams. See the person, and encourage everyone you lead to do the same. Your ability to rely on commitments made to you will increase significantly.

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As I hit Submit on this, I saw this tweet

which expressed it in 540 fewer words.

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CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Unwinding Back to Trust by Martin Burns is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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