Building trust, communication and connectivity among leaders
I was recently approached by a unique team of senior leaders who belonged to a support group with the intention of being there for each other to brainstorm and seek advice from each other on their various business and personal challenges. It is a structured organized platform that allows for this kind of meeting.
They had been relating with each other for over 5 years and it was time for an annual retreat – somewhat of a team-builder. They all had their own separate businesses and did not work together. They had come to a point of some dissatisfaction with the level of trust and intimacy within the group, so they sought me out as an external facilitator to help break down some of the barriers, open a space for honest and kind feedback and to help them see where they currently are in their own lives and as a group. They also wanted to look at where they want to be together moving forward.
It was a question of, can we become closer, be more connected or is this as good as it gets? The group consisted of men and women in their early 40s to 50s from diverse cultures and of different personalities.
I had a pre-session conversation with each of them separately prior to the planned live workshop, to gain a deeper insight on what was really going on for each of them and understand the group dynamics.
I sensed some disappointment, despondency, blame and mistrust. Some were resigned to the idea that they may need to split up and go their separate ways, while others were superficial in their interactions, as they didn’t feel their ideas were valued in the group sensing that they were not as good as the others. A few felt that the group didn’t give them enough value for the time commitment it demanded.
They had hoped to be able to turn to each other for support and advice. I learnt that they were all waiting for each other to be more open and sharing in order to deepen the relationship. It sounded much like a chicken and egg story. Some were battling with the idea if disclosure was equal to trust. And others felt trust was more about dependability. The very existence of this group was hinging on whether they could build a deeper commitment to each other, there were talks of disbanding if things didn’t evolve.
Ordinarily, to build trust, trainers would introduce some typical activities including a trust fall, where the group stands around and invites each participant to close their eyes one by one and literally fall back into their outstretched arms. Or there are the regular win/win type games where the objective is to all win together, but participants often get competitive and hence all lose.
On a cognitive level, we would consider going through the elements of trust, either based on Covey’s “Speed of Trust” which talks about 4 Cores of Credibility and 13 Behaviors of High Trust and Gittomer’s Little Book Of Trust. We’d look at communication based on Chalmers Brothers, “Language and the Pursuit of Happiness” and share inspirational stories from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
But I knew that these leaders wanted something much deeper than just new things to do, it was a whole new way of being that they were yearning for without being able to articulate it.
It had to be about doing things differently rather than just doing different things. Most of them had done their MBAs at top business schools and had engaged in countless outward bound and personal development workshops. They’d attended talks by some of the world’s most inspiring thought leaders, and I knew I could not give them more new tools or teach them different things they could do, it needed a new way of doing and seeing the same things. The regular old team-building toolbox was not going to be enough for this intervention.
So I did my research, pulled up all my previous workshop run-sheets, caught up with my mentors and peers and invested weeks in deciding on the perfect choreography for the 2 days to help inspire some insights! In the end though, they were the simplest exercises that had the biggest impact. One in particular that stands out was an activity that showed them how they resisted asking for help either because they felt competitive or because they had assumptions that the kind of help that may be available would not be enough or what they needed. When the penny dropped in this exercise, there were many “a-ha” moments for the entire group as they could relate how they behaved in it with they way they showed up in their real lives.
Another simple one that encouraged intimacy through presence and deep listening evoked emotional reactions that surprised the group as it opened up the floodgates of vulnerability that was yearning to be drawn out into the room. I stepped out of the way and surrendered to whatever was emerging.
Though some of the activities when isolated appeared strange and purposeless to them, the pieces started to fall together by the end of day 1. By mid morning on day two, tears were shed and some were hugging. Feedback was caring and useful and they started to see just how blessed they were to have each other.
I realised that it was through my own willingness to be open and trusting and at the same time not attached to my agenda that we were able to deeply connect with each other.
Each person’s unique life experiences, behaviors, beliefs and values added a new dynamic to the group creating learning for all on a deeply individual level. They were able to relate the lessons that they created themselves back to their own lives and relationships within and outside of the group.
I learnt that attempting to build and sustain this kind of connection amongst top leaders requires a custom approach and not a ‘standard’ “one size fits all” solution as human experiences are different.
I feel blessed to be able to do this work and be a catalyst for change and true transformation. It is humbling and deeply fulfilling.