To build high levels of trust, you need to establish clear operating principles. Operating principles help clarify the day-to-day interactions you want people to demonstrate, and enable teams to anticipate and minimize conflict. Real trust only comes after people have been through a few battles together. It’s the leader’s job to make sure operating principles are in place. When the rules of engagement are clear, fair, and consistently applied, then the battles can be fun, rather than debilitating.
These were developed by the CEO of a financial services company:
The fact that this CEO took the time to spell out and discuss these principles is a sign of good leadership. That he talks about these principles regularly and cements them with the members of his team is a sign that he’s very intent on building trust.
We’ve worked with dozens of leaders and management teams to develop similar operating principles. Who’s going to be involved in which decisions? Which leaders need to meet regularly, and how often? How often do we revisit the delegations of responsibility? People work more effectively together once they start talking about how they want to work together. Trust builds naturally when the expectations are clear. What’s surprising is so many people never have this conversation in the first place.
One type of conflict reflects differences in priorities, approaches, and ways of seeing things.
Here’s what I would say about the first type of conflict: “Conflict over points of view is expected. Until the decision is made, I expect there to be disagreements among you. You need to talk to each other directly and understand each other’s point of view. It’s important that you talk about your underlying assumptions and find out what data you agree on, and where you disagree. Above all, don’t ask someone else to referee your conflict. Learn to work it out yourselves. Only ask for a referee after you’ve exhausted all efforts to figure this out on your own.”
Make sure you also include this ground rule: “Once the decision is made, then the time for debate is over. We will all stand united behind the decision.”
The second type of conflict stems from past breaches of trust.
For dealing with the second type of conflict, I would set this ground rule: “You will experience disagreements of a personal nature. It is inevitable. You may find that you simply do not like another person, or you may find that you resent things they’ve done in the past. Although these types of conflicts will occur, you cannot let them affect your performance. If they do affect your work, you need to take responsibility for figuring out a strategy to stop that from happening. If you let it continue to affect your work, then this is not the organization for you.”
Learn more about how to manage conflict at our CommunicationStyles.org blog.
Leading Resources, Inc. is a Sacramento Consulting firm that develops leaders and leading organizations. Subscribe to our leadership development newsletter to download the PDF – “The 6 Trust-Building Habits of Leaders” to learn more about how to build trust with your team.