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PUBLISHED ARTICLE: The Science of Building Trust, Collaboration and Teamwork
February 01,2017 [ by Larry Chao ] 2077 Read and 1 Comment

How do you create a culture of trust? What inspires managers to collaborate and work as a team? Now science has an answer that confirms much of what we have long believed, writes Larry Chao.

Scientific Proof
In his recent article, The Neuroscience of Trust [Harvard Business Review, January-February, 2017], Paul Zak, professor of management, economics and psychology at Claremont Graduate University, concluded that certain management behaviors have a direct effect on the production of the hormone oxytocin in the human body. Oxytocin in turn is a brain chemical that facilitates collaboration and teamwork by reducing the fear individuals have of trusting strangers. In short, the more oxytocin employees produce, the greater potential to create a work culture of trust, collaboration and teamwork.

Zak goes further by assessing the impact of a high trust business environment on business performance. What he discovered was that in high trust work environments, performance excelled. For example, individuals self-reported they felt more engaged, were more productive, and exhibited a greater willingness to work with others. Moreover, these individuals felt more loyal to the company and aligned with its purpose.

So what behaviors produce oxytocin in people and lead to a culture of greater trust, collaboration and teamwork? According to Zak, there are eight management behaviors. These behaviors are: [1] Giving recognition, [2] setting challenging goals, [3] empowering, [4] letting people define their roles, [5] sharing information, [6] building relationships, [7] enabling personal growth and, [8] showing vulnerability.

Tangible Benefits
Paul Zak’s work resonates with what I have found working with management teams here in Asia and around the world. Moreover, not only do they stimulate the production of oxytocin and other neurochemicals that create trust and teamwork, I believe they enable individuals to gain more control over their environment and feel more competent. This is important in today’s ever changing world, where people often feel disoriented and lack confidence about what they need to do to succeed.

Let’s explain each behavior briefly and shed some light on how they work:

Giving Recognition – Neuroscience studies verify the benefits of positive reinforcement: Recognition motivates people and has a significant impact on trust. This is especially true when the recognition is given by peers immediately after a job well done.

Setting Challenging Goals – Setting challenging objectives and measuring progress inspires team members to focus and work together. If goals are unrealistically high, however, they can have the opposite effect.

Empowering – Giving capable people the authority to plan, structure and own how they execute their work fosters trust and teamwork. While it is important to periodically oversee accomplishments, it is counterproductive to micromanage.

Letting People Define Their Roles – Not surprisingly, when people are able to select the projects they want to work on and to define their roles, they feel more trust and feel more accountability for results.

Sharing Information – Individuals who are kept in the dark about a company’s strategy and how their jobs fit in, experience high levels of anxiety. Informing people of how their work contributes to the big picture offsets this feeling.

Building Relationships – Nurturing meaningful relationships at work has a huge benefit on building trust. Too often organizations focus only on accomplishing tasks without emphasizing social bonding and the impact camaraderie can have on trust.

Supporting Personal Growth – In organizations, where career development and exploring how individuals can develop their potential are taken seriously, there is greater trust. When an organization is committed to an individual’s growth, the individual reciprocates.

Showing Vulnerability – When people ask for help and show their vulnerability, Zak’s studies showed that this enhances people’s willingness to trust. “Asking for help is effective because it taps into the natural human impulse to cooperate and [help] others,” wrote Zak.

Highest Impact Behaviors
From our work with clients, the highest impact behaviors are Empowering and Building Relationships. Call these the “hard” and “soft” core behaviors underlying teamwork. With Empowering, team members construct the blueprint and direction of the team. By Building Relationships, teams strengthen the ability of individuals to trust and respect each other, act in uncertainty, and communicate effectively.
Butik Dershane

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