The Chemistry of Communications: Trust Before Triumph

By Nilesh Bhagat, CHRP

A cohesive team is a high-performing team (generally speaking). With hockey season around the corner, look no further than across this season’s favorites to see an underlying commonality: team chemistry. But what does it take to build chemistry? What makes a group cohesive?

Here’s my take. We define our sense of selves according to the groups that we belong to. I can say I’m a hockey fan, an employee, and friend – all groups which I feel define who I’ve become. We are essentially composite representations of the groups we belong to and these collectives imprint upon us the ways in which we think, act and feel (okay fine, genetics plays a roll, too – but it’s still more of an interplay between genes and (social) experiences than a dichotomy). The way in which we are shaped by each of our groups further depends on the set of values, norms and beliefs that its people share, what we might collectively refer to  as culture: the glue which binds us.

So, if we define ourselves in terms of the groups to which we belong and their individual cultures are what shape our identities, then what holds together our web of group values, norms and beliefs? The glue that binds the glue which binds us is trust. It’s what creates the ingredients necessary for team chemistry and enables performance.

Paul Zak, a professor of economics at Claremont Graduate University, studies trust from the neurological level and has convincingly shown its role in positive group relations and performance. Specifically, he has evidenced that nations whose people believed there to be high levels of trust between countrymen perform better economically (in terms of GDP growth) than those with lower levels. Trust, he says, is built through social interactions grounded in freedom of association, freedom of the press, and freedom of communication.

These are the same sorts of interactions our modern workplaces seek to encourage. Most every organization strives for an inclusive and positive work environment, which is the result of positive social interactions. The result of these social interactions is, in turn, trust. But how do we enable positive social interactions?

Building robust lines of communication can increase the positive social interactions that occur within (and across) workgroups. We can do this through face-to-face, phone-to-phone and internet-enabled interactions.Face-to-face and phone-to-phone interaction channels are already common, but it’s valuable to also have other means of communication open: IM, texting and the good, old fashioned Facebook post. These channels work to build trust, reinforce culture and solidify identities: all necessary precursors to cohesiveness, aligned behaviors and performance.

This brings me back to my initial question: what is the best way to build team cohesion?

My answer is to build robust lines of communication and encourage positive social interactions through as many channels as possible within your workgroup or organization. The result of such interactions results in accumulation of the gold standard of social currency, trust. This is what binds the values, norms, beliefs and behaviour which bond individuals in a group, resulting in cohesiveness – and top teams in any season.

Nilesh Bhagat, CHRP, is a rewards coordinator with Best Buy Canada. Nilesh graduated from Simon Fraser University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, First Class Honours. He majored in Human Resources Management and tacked on an extended minor in Psychology. He’s a self-confessed nerd (the first step is admitting), likes to read, loves hockey and is struggling with the complexities of learning the game of golf.


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