Trusting Us and Trusting Them – A Leader’s Role – Part 2
By Maj Will Meddings
In the first part of this article I mentioned the theory that trust is made up of integrity, intent, capability and proven results. In this part I’ll cover the next three ways to build trust between teams. The first, to be honest, is rather obvious.
Demonstrate Professionalism and Competence
Our leadership doctrine is up front. A leader needs professional competence in order to be trusted. This is exactly the same. This is about building the competence and proven results parts of the trust equation.
Getting two teams to respect each other’s professionalism and competence is actually quite difficult. Each nation tells its army that it is better trained and more competent than the others. Each nation has it pre-conceptions. It’s hardly better between branches of the British Army. Each team values what it’s good at and devalues what it’s not. So when it comes to building up respect for teams’ professionalism, help your team understand the other team’s strengths and unique skills. Get their specialists to teach skills to your generalists and vice versa. Get your team to think about the other team’s areas of professional strength and ensure they demonstrate their own professionalism whenever they can. There are broadly two ways to demonstrate competence and professionalism:
“I have confidence in their soldiering competence – they know what they are doing. Whereas [the other team] have a really visible lack of competence. It gives me much less confidence in their ability.”
Prove that you know what you are doing by doing it well. This, unsurprisingly, is the most important way to demonstrate professionalism. But let’s assume you’ll always want your team to be as professional as possible anyway.
“They look professional – it suggests to me a professional team.”
The second way is to look the part and make your work look slick. I hate to say it but appearances matter, perception is reality and others will judge you on how you carry yourself. It’s one of the reasons we obsess about standards of appearance. Just remember that other teams judge how you look by their standards, not yours. Ally-ness might not be uniquely British, but every team measures professionalism differently. Don’t fall into the trap of looking professional by your standards when you are trying to impress those that value different things.
It might be comforting to assert that ‘we’ll be judged by our results and not by how we look’ but the truth is you’ll be judged on both. As a leader, ensure your team take every opportunity to act the part, look the part and demonstrate the professional attitude and outlook your audience expect.
Be Honest, Be Open
No one trusts a liar. So what’s the difference between honesty and openness? Honesty is telling the truth – not lying. Openness is about not hiding things – not lying by omission. Both clearly matter. Honesty and openness demonstrate your integrity and intent.
“They tell me what I want to know even when I don’t know myself that I wanted to know it. They fill in gaps in my knowledge that I don’t know exist.”
“They only tell you what you want to hear. They spin things and it’s about what they don’t say as much as what they do say.”
Openness is all about sharing information. The problem is information is power, and people don’t like to share power. Gen McChrystal talks a lot about this in Team of Teams. You’ll build trust by sharing all your information, including things you’d rather the other team didn’t know. Sometimes the most important information you can have is where your allies have weaknesses.
The SOF and J2 communities are incredibly wary of sharing information. They are also proud and don’t want to admit they have shortfalls in areas where other teams are strong. McChrystal had to work hard to get them to be open with information and honest about where they might have complementary skills.
The answer is to share all the information you have and be honest when you have failed at something. Make sure your team know you expect them to do the same and recognise it when they do. You also need to make it easy for other teams to share with you: recognise it when they do. If they are open about their shortcomings or failures don’t berate or belittle – thank.
“There is honesty and realism up front. I might not like it when they say they cannot deliver, but I know they are honest and won’t over-promise.”
There’s also a tension here: If you share the fact that you are less competent in particular areas then you risk building up integrity and intent but reducing peoples’ estimation of your capability. It’s just a tension you need to balance. I was happy telling the OC of my paired US Army company our shortcomings and he shared his back. Our command teams were better for knowing it but perhaps not every man needed to know.
Teamwork and Shared Goals
Before the leadership code was saying ‘strive for team goals’ Values Based Leadership was teaching us to ‘build acceptance of team goals’. When working with other teams you need to not only strive for shared goals but also accept not all goals are shared: Make sure both teams are crystal clear on their shared goals and those that aren’t shared.
“We’re on the same page with what we need to do. We have the same goals and agree how we will get to them.”
Shared goals build intent. Understanding where you don’t have shared goals helps avoid disappointment (and integrity being damaged) when you both work to different ends. This is really important in multinational operations with national caveats. As part of the Kabul city QRF we had certain UK-specific missions that might trump our NATO ones. The US (and every nation) had these missions. Each nation had tasks it wasn’t allowed to do. Being honest that ‘we can’t help you because our nation won’t let us’ was important. It helps us all accept that we wouldn’t always be striving for shared goals in equal measure.
“They have the same motive as me – delivering lifesaving equipment to the front line.”
You’ll also be surprised how often you can have shared goals between military contractors and soldiers. A cynic might think contractors are only motivated by profit and pay. My experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan tell me this isn’t always the case.
Whenever you can, the leaders need to try and align their goals. Formal planning together will help this. Informal discussions are even better. Talk over coffee with your oppo. Chat about your mission to help tease out the hidden differences. It might require give-and-take but ultimately once you truly share goals you’re virtually one team, sharing in the success and failure together.
Building Trust, Building Speed, Building Success
Building trust between teams isn’t easy but hopefully this advice, based on experience and research, will help. If you trust someone you sometimes get let down. There’s no doubt about it. However, high trust relationships support rapid decision-making and execution. McChrystal’s view on how to take down a highly networked insurgent network was to speed up the operational cycle through greater trust. I think the same lessons stand for conventional combat operations.
Think of trust as simple maths:
Trust = Integrity x Intent x Capability x Proven Results
You can build trust between teams through five activities: always delivering on promises; building rapport and mutual understanding; demonstrating professionalism and competence; being honest and open; and building an acceptance of shared (and unshared) goals.
All of them will involve making your team vulnerable and giving up valuable resources. They will also be difficult to sell to your team and you will undoubtedly suffer setbacks. These days you have little choice but to accept these as the costs of building up a high-trust environment and getting rid of that expensive ‘trust tax’. Churchill knew it when he said “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them”. Choosing to not to trust really isn’t an option.
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