We started this handbook with a discussion on how to gain trust. In this outro, I’ll discuss how to maintain trust. After all, what’s the point of gaining trust if we can’t keep it?
At start-ups, team members are typically young, intelligent, ambitious, and outspoken. They have an opinion on everything. Therefore, trust from team members is often built on a leader’s ability to seek and acknowledge people’s feedback. And the more trust you get from team members, the more they will do for you.
Yet with authority, it becomes difficult to gain feedback. People generally do not expect to tell their bosses how to do their job, and may even expect that they do their jobs perfectly. Team members may also dislike sharing feedback with their boss, fearing that it creates disagreements: A conflict where the boss most likely wins.
It is thus critical that we create an environment where team members are comfortable sharing feedback. Here are some tactics to help get started:
- Set a clear expectation of what you want: This can be achieved by regularly prompting for feedback in different ways and praising team members when they act on it.
- Establish a feedback channels: We can create processes by which team members can give feedback. Perhaps an anonymous survey goes out once a month, or every other one-on-one meeting is dedicated to team members sharing feedback. Simply saying “I’d love to hear your feedback anytime” is never enough. Team members still won’t know how to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Establishing feedback channels and holding team members accountable can facilitate this process.
- Empathize: It’s important to put ourself in a team member’s shoes before taking a decision or announcing a change. This allows us to foresee how team members will react, allowing us to tailor our communication and roll-out strategy accordingly.
- Eat the same food as team members: To effectively empathize, it helps to eat the same food, or do the same work, as front-line soldiers, at least once in a while or continuously in small doses. This also communicates to team members that you have the context to understand their pains.
- Listen: Being an active listener will help team members feel that we understand them and acknowledge their concerns.
- Respond to feedback: Acting on feedback translates into caring for the team. In the case where we disagree with a feedback, it’s important to clearly explain why that is the case and invite a constructive conversation. This ensures that team members understand our reasoning, even if they disagree with it.
- Distinguish venting from feedback: There are times when team members want to vent and complain about a situation. It’s important to distinguish when that’s the case, versus when they’re providing feedback. Getting clarity ahead of a conversation ensures that we do not try to solve a problem when all that’s asked is a pair of ears to listen; when a person vents, they simply seek someone to listen, not necessarily respond. It is reasonable to simply ask the team member whether they want to vent at the beginning or a chat.
Lets ask team members for constructive feedback in a safe environment (e.g. Submit anonymously written notes)
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