I work with a lot of teams, and I’ll be honest — people usually don’t call me in because things are going well. Which means, in my work, I see a lot of dysfunction. And in my experience, dysfunction is so very often caused by one of two things: 1) Broken communication, or 2) Broken trust.
And here’s the rub: They’re unavoidably intertwined. Either can build or diminish the other. Great communication can easily build up trust, and deep trust can make up for poor communication. Likewise, bad communication can unintentionally impede trust through misconceptions and misrepresentations — and broken trust makes all communication, however executed, suspect.
So, if they’re both so entrenched in the other, what can we do? Well, the good news here is you can use that to your advantage. Invest in one, and you’ll get double the return. Invest in both, and it will quadruple! (Okay, don’t check my math there, but you get the point). If your team is feeling tense, toxic, or just generally dysfunctional, addressing one or both of these can almost always help to get to the root of the problem. What communication systems can you add? Perhaps all you need is a tool like Slack or Teams to provide a forum in which information can be more effectively disseminated instead of email. Or perhaps you’re a leader who needs to get better at trusting your management teams and allowing them to speak on your behalf. The question is, how can you help the team connect and build trust? Would a communication workshop help? Perhaps it’s time to actually teach everyone how to communicate through NVC, or something similar.
If you’re not sure, always remember you can ask. As I’ve said before, being a leader doesn’t mean you need to know all the answers. Ask your team where they see the problem coming from. Ask everyone. Really listen to the answers without defensiveness. Invoke the sense of insatiable curiosity, then adjust accordingly.