Recently on a long cross country trip, I decompressed a little by watching the in-flight movie, Bridget Jones’s Baby (don’t judge.) In the flick, one of Bridget’s romantic interests was an online dating guru who developed an algorithm to predict successful love connections. Although it may not be as exciting as a theatrical love connection, I wondered if a similar algorithm for success could apply to building a successful workplace team.

Arguably, the most important component of a successful team is trust among the members.  According to PwC’s 2016 global CEO survey, 55% of CEOs think that lack of trust is a threat to their organization’s growth.  So how can an organization intentionally build trust and weave it into the fabric of its culture?

Paul J. Zak has studied the neuroscience of trust for decades and has discovered that the brain chemical oxytocin has a direct connection to reducing the fear of trusting a stranger (building trust).  With this new knowledge, Zak set out to determine the promoters and inhibitors of oxytocin to inform how trust can be intentionally built and how it is destroyed.

Through the research, eight management behaviors were identified as oxytocin boosters:

Recognize Excellence –The neuroscience shows that recognition is most effective when it occurs immediately after a goal is attained, when it comes from peers, and when its tangible, unexpected, personal and public.  This makes me wonder why some companies are still relying on annual performance evaluation systems or stock recognition programs to celebrate success.

Induce “Challenge Stress” – When a team is assigned a difficult but attainable goal the moderate stress is shown to increase oxytocin and another neurochemical, adrenocorticotropin.  These chemicals increase focus and build social connections.  However, research also shows that this is effective only when the task is attainable and when it has a finite finishing point. If the goal is too lofty or if it has no identifiable completion date, teams tend to give up before they even start.

Give People Discretion In How They Do Their Work – It is a big motivator when folks are confident that they are free to determine the best ways to accomplish their work.  A recent study conducted by LinkedIn and Citigroup found that nearly half of the employees surveyed would give up a 20% raise if they had greater control over how they did their work.

Enable Job Crafting – When employees are able to choose work that is interesting to them, people focus their energy on what they care about most. This leads to better productivity and greater job satisfaction.

Share Information Broadly – Research shows that only 40% of employees feel informed about company long term strategy and short term goals and performance.  This lack of knowledge leads to anxiety which is an inhibitor of oxytocin and is detrimental to building trust.  Open and frequent communication is the solution to this problem.  Workforce engagement improves with daily communication with the supervisor.

Intentionally Build Relationships – In some workplaces the culture dictates that the focus should be on completing tasks and assignments and not on building relationships.  However, companies that are interested in a better bottom line may want to rethink this message.  Neuroscience research shows that when people intentionally build relationships at work their performance improves.

Facilitate Whole Person Growth – Workplaces with high trust among the team invest in developing people professionally and personally.  Studies show that building work skills alone is not enough.  Employees that grow as human beings are better performers, are more engaged and are retained longer.

Show Vulnerability – Zak’s research shows that when leaders ask for help from colleagues instead of just telling them to do things oxytocin production is stimulated.  Asking for help works, because the natural human reaction is to cooperate with others. Showing vulnerability is the sign of a confident leader and goes a long way in building trust among the team.

Many successful companies are already integrating these practices into their cultures. Isn’t it nice to know that, like the love connection algorithm from the movie, these behaviors when implemented together create a scientifically proven road to building trust within your team?

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