Asking Brave Questions To Build Trust

“You can’t manage a secret.”
Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Company

Comedian Rich Hall offers a test to help you determine which economic class you’re in. He says, “If the BUILDING you work in has your name on it, you are a part of the upper class. If your DESK has your name on it, you are a part of the middle class. If the SHIRT you wear to work has your name on it, you are part of the working class.”

I’m not sure that’s totally true, but I do know there is often a lack of trust among the classes and even amongst the members of the same team. And that’s a problem. As I often say in my presentations, “Trust is a must or the relationship will bust.” Trust is the foundation of every strong, effective team.

So how do you build trust? Well that would take me an entire seminar to answer, but let’s start with these tips.

=> 1. Open up the communication.

Get everyone in a meeting to participate … to really participate. For example, if you have some quiet people on your team, from time to time ask for their feedback. Ask them how they’re reacting.

And that means asking more than surface, yes or no questions. It means more than asking, “Are you okay with this?” More often than not, those kinds of questions won’t get much of a response. The quiet people will give a polite “Yes” or “Yeah, I’m okay.” But that doesn’t tell you very much.

So try a behavioral description … followed by a question. For example, “I notice you haven’t said anything for 30 minutes” or “I notice you looking down. What are you thinking about all of this?” You’ll probably get a much more informative response.

Or try the “one-word go-around.” Go around the circle and ask each team member to describe how he or she feels in one word. You’ll often be surprised by the answers.

Best of all, use my Brave Question technique. It works for your teams on the job as well as at home. Listen to author and certified personal trainer Jimi Varner. Jimi says: “Around 4 months ago, I purchased your incredible, thought-provoking book, ‘BRAVE QUESTIONS: Building Stronger Relationships By Asking All The Right Questions,’ and have seen the miraculous effects it’s had my relationship with my soon-to-be fiancé. Although practical and simple, we have found it extremely beneficial to all of our relationships and highly recommend it to anybody in need of urgent or not-yet-so urgent relationship repair!”

Sid Slatter echoes that comment. He says: “I was a 35-year old General Contractor and the epitome of the husband who did not communicate well with his wife. But then I attended your seminar and learned about Brave Questions. I purchased your book on ‘Brave Questions,’ and, boy do I owe you huge thank you. If you were to see me and my wife now, you might think we were on our first or second date. This book has also helped me to build better relationships with my customers and employees.”

=> 2. Model honesty and openness.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It is not fair to ask others what you are unwilling to do yourself.” Or put another way, you can’t expect your team members to be totally honest and open if you aren’t.

So get rid of your pretense. Be yourself … with no embellishments. And get rid of your efforts to make a “good impression” or your little cover-ups of the real truth. The only way your team members can trust you is if they know … what they see is what they get.

Bring your authentic best to every team encounter. As Jim Collins points out in his book, “Good To Great,” it’s a critical piece in team building. Collins says, “While you can’t control the outcome … you can control the integrity of your input and effort.” So make sure your input is honest and open.

=> 3. Kick down the silos.

Trust is almost impossible in a climate of secrecy. The same goes for success. And Alan Mulally knew that when he took over the reins of a struggling Ford Motor Company. When he went there, he found an internal culture filled with silos, where people and departments walled themselves off from everyone and everything else in the company.

A silo culture extended from the company’s overall structure into individual divisions and subdivisions. Each of Ford’s four operating divisions had its own unique management, product development, and manufacturing units. Even minor parts such as mirrors, hinges, and springs were specific to each vehicle line, requiring more than 30 different platforms company-wide. By contrast, Ford’s competitors, such as General Motors and Toyota, had only five or six.

Information was also “siloed.” Mulally was aghast that the operating groups didn’t share financial data. When he began requiring them to do so, they were equally aghast and called him privately to make sure he meant it. He did mean it. As he said, “You can’t manage a secret.”

Silo thinking even extended into Ford’s management meetings. So Mulally now requires division chiefs to meet weekly … instead of monthly … to make certain all data gets discussed. More importantly, the chiefs must attend the meetings in person or via video conference, and not merely send assistants as they’d done in the past. In fact, they must bring a different assistant to each meeting so the word gets out more widely and quickly.

To keep discussion flowing once meetings start, Mulally has banned the thick briefing books managers used to bring to defend their every position. The phrase “I don’t know,” once feared at Ford, is now encouraged when applicable. To prevent attendees from being distracted from all this information, he’s also banned BlackBerrys and has forbidden side conversations while someone else is talking.

These new, fundamental changes at Ford won’t necessarily create new vehicles that the world wants to buy. But they will make that creation more likely. After all, how can a customer be expected to trust Ford, if the teams at Ford don’t even trust each other? So kick down the silos in your team or your organization.

=> 4. Make a commitment to stick together.

Now this is going to sound old fashioned, but trust can only exist in an atmosphere of commitment. That’s why the original marriage vows asked the man and woman to pledge their loyalty to one another, in good times and in bad, until death pulled them apart.

By contrast, trust cannot grow in a relationship if one or both of the parties feels free to cut and run at any time. And the same thing goes for trust on the job. Trust cannot be maintained if labor or management sees the other as disposable.

No. Trust is built when we know … we really know … we’re in this together. And we’re going to do whatever it takes to make the relationship work.

A good example might be a team of mountain climbers. If they’re going to make it, they know they’ve got to hang together. Or as Earl Wilson teasingly asked in the “Herald” newspaper of Durango, Colorado, “Do you know why mountain climbers rope themselves together? To prevent the sensible ones from going home.”

The fact is … trust is built and trust continues to grow in a team when all the team members are committed to sticking together. The famous Aesop of “Aesop’s Fables” talked about that hundreds of years ago.

In one of his stories, there was a farmer who had a quarrelsome family, filled with rivalry, bickering, and mistrust. He couldn’t reconcile their differences with words, so he thought he might readily prevail by an example.

He called his sons and told them to lay a bunch of sticks before him. Then, having tied the sticks into a bundle, he told the lads, one after another, to take it up and break it. They all tried, but tried in vain. Then, untying the bundle, he gave them the sticks to break one by one. This they did with the greatest ease.

Then said the father, “Thus, my sons, as long as you remain united, you are a match for all your enemies, but differ and separate, and you are undone.”

Action:  List five ways you could dramatically increase the quantity and quality of communication in your marriage … team … or organization.