L&D Best Practices

To improve team collaboration, encourage vulnerability-based trust

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Vulnerability-Based Trust

To find out more about how teams can best collaborate together, take a look at our new collection with Patrick Lencioni, best-selling author and member of the CrossKnowledge Faculty.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but to build a high-performing team, it’s important to foster vulnerability. In the workplace, being vulnerable means accepting one’s own imperfections, and being able to share them with others.

Why is vulnerability so important? For bestselling author and international speaker Pat Lencioni, the absence of trust is the first of five dysfunctions that may exist within a team, the four others being fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results.

Behind this absence of trust often lies the fear of being vulnerable with others and of sharing personal weaknesses or failures. It’s no surprise that the absence of trust will dramatically hamper team members’ ability to collaborate. On the other side of this fear however, is a special kind of trust that is created when every team member is honest about their weaknesses and failures. It lets people be completely emotionally transparent with one another, especially about their limitations. This means that they will be able to recognize if they made a mistake, or don’t know how to do something, or need help on a project. They will also be able to acknowledge the expertise of another teammate, or even to apologize for doing something unfair. When a human being can get to that place, and know that everyone else in their team is there too, it leads to a completely different group dynamic that will in turn improve performance drastically.

Organizational leaders must show the way

Managers and leaders have to be at the forefront of this type of behavior, and be comfortable with sharing their own vulnerability. When top managers struggle with vulnerability, it can have devastating effects on the rest of the workforce. Pat Lencioni tells the story of a well-known CEO who could never admit he was wrong, and who was perceived as intimidating by his teams. This led his employees to believe that, just like their boss, they should never be vulnerable. So nobody ever acknowledged when they made a mistake, when they had a problem or when they needed help. Over time, this manifested itself in terrible problems in the company, which eventually got sold off for a fraction of its worth. On the other hand, the power of a leader overcoming that fear of vulnerability is extraordinary. By seeing their leaders demonstrate vulnerability, team members will see firsthand that it’s not only okay to be vulnerable, it’s actually a behavior that the organization values and rewards!

Is there a limit to how vulnerable we should be in the workplace?

It’s natural to wonder: can we ever be too vulnerable the workplace? Is there a risk that this type of behavior will backfire? Obviously, the goal of promoting vulnerability is not to encourage self-depreciation, nor to use it as a way to avoid being held accountable. Vulnerability, at the right dose, breeds trust; which is something missing from most teams and that stands in the way of increased performance. Ultimately, teams that embrace more vulnerability will ask for help more easily, become closer with their colleges, and collaborate better with each other.