We Wear the Same T-shirt: Why You Need to Cultivate Trust in Your Team

The biggest predictor of sustained achievement in the workplace is the level of engagement your team has. Control leads to compliance, but engagement leads to the unearthing of potential. It energizes a path of mastery. To discover how to create an engaged team, we first
need to explore why trust matters in your team.

Connection Impacts Trust in Your Team

Research highlights that there are a couple of prominent elements, or levers, that create engaged staff. These are intuitive, and none of them is surprising. Simply ask yourself the question, ‘when do I feel totally absorbed in what I am doing?’ and chances are you’ll name
one of these prominent levers. Engagement is most often a function of…

    • Meaning or purpose: What I do connects me to something important to me and possibly greater than me.
    • Growth and development: What I do stretches me appropriately (we call this manageable difficulty), causing motion in developing skills or gaining experience.
    • Feedback: I see the link between my effort and reward, where the reward is not necessarily monetary. My hard work shifts things in a visible, desirable, and focused direction.
    • Connection: I feel part of something, and my sense of belonging is grounded in trust.
We Wear the Same T-shirt: Why You Need to Cultivate Trust in Your Team

If you follow us on social media, you’d see that much of the content we’ve been putting out lately has been focusing on the last lever – connection. Simply put, connection cannot be overstated in the workplace. Connection is what enables you to navigate difficult and
changing environments, and it greatly impacts how much to trust in your team.  

How Connection And Trust Are Interconnected

Connection protects us from discontent. As per the Grant Studies, a comprehensive research project by Harvard, connection keeps people happy throughout their lives. When people are disconnected in the workplace, their ‘defence system’ is on high alert, disabling them from
doing their best work. Instead of focusing on external opportunities, the focus becomes an internal threat, characterized by acts of self-protection. 

In Siya Kolisi’s book Rise, he expresses the initial awkwardness he felt when he was first contracted to the provincial rugby team, the Stormers. The world he found himself in was unknown and foreign. The changes were so extreme that it was loaded with overwhelm and

How do you survive when the ground beneath you is liquid? The answer is simple: you need a friend. Siya describes the impact of simply having another by his side, and the power another brings to navigating change. Also new to the Stormers was Scarra Ntubeni. Scarra
found himself in a similar position to Siya. Journeying the uncertainty and change with a companion multiplied their resilience and strength. It highlights how resilience within change often depends on whether people within the organisation have friends who can walk along their side through the storm.

Social Science Proves the Importance Of Trust

I was fascinated by an experiment I discovered in Adam Grant’s book Give and Take. Perhaps my fascination antennae were heightened by the fact that I am a Manchester United supporter. Yes, I know, some of you want to stop reading this blog. But please stay with me. 
The researchers conducting this experiment wanted to see what impact a ‘common tribe’ has on kindness. Psychologists in the United Kingdom recruited Manchester United fans for this experiment. 

The group had a tour of Old Trafford (the home ground of Manchester United) and then walked to another building outside the ground. Whilst walking, a runner would trip whilst passing them and writhe in pain, clutching his ankle. For some groups, the runner wore a Manchester United T-shirt. For some, a plain T-shirt. And for others, he’d wear a Liverpool T-shirt. What do you think happened? Let’s hold our breath on that one for a while.

Factors That Impact Trust in Your Team

Many years ago, a dear friend of mine introduced me to a concept called ‘trust builders, and trust breakers.’ Ever since then, I have constantly used this concept in workshops. The basic notion is that each of us has certain expectations of others. When people meet those expectations, trust is built. When the expectations are compromised or not met, trust diminishes. 

For example, if I expect people to greet me by my first name, smile, and be interested in how I am doing, then they would build my trust every time they do that. Another example would be time. For some people, this is a big trust builder. To this person, when they say “let’s meet
at 15h00,” they mean it. Arriving at 15h05 is trust-breaking behaviour. Do this often enough, trust is broken. 

Most of us expect that if you wear the same T-shirt as me, you have my back, and I have yours. The same T-shirt brings an expectation of trust-building behaviour. The results from the Manchester United T-shirt experiment are as follows:

We Wear the Same T-shirt: Why You Need to Cultivate Trust in Your Team

The Result Of The Manchester United Social Science Experiment?

When the runner was wearing a Man U T-shirt, 92% of people helped. They engaged in trust-building around their common identity. When the person wore a plain T-shirt, the help decreased to 33%. When it was a Liverpool T-shirt, it dropped again – to 30%. The results
show a significant principle in the human psyche – people who wear the same T-shirt support each other. 

What was interesting about this experiment was the modified version they conducted. During the tour, these groups were primed around the benefits of football and what they had in common with all football fans. In this instance, the falling Liverpool T-shirt runner received
support 70% of the time. Now the commonality was not a local club, but the tribe of football.

How This Experiment Relates to Your Organisation

If we are a part of the same organisation, what are the implicit expectations most people would have of each other? That’s a good question worthy of much pondering. If you wear the T-shirt of an organisation called XYZ, would you naturally expect someone else who wears
the same T-shirt as you? The answer is YES. Because you trust your team, there would be an expectation that if you fall they have your back. And there would be an expectation that your team doesn’t do things that hurt this organisation. For the football fans out there, have you
noticed how fans can get pretty upset about owners who are perceived to be engaging in activity that threatens the name, status, and potential of the club?

5 Simple Expectations Most People Have In An Organisation, Because They ‘Wear the Same Shirt'

    1. Don’t talk behind my back. Don’t gossip. We ‘wear the same T-shirt’, which should permit us to talk to each other about any concerns between us.  
    2. I have a voice and my voice needs deserve equality with yours. You wouldn’t shut my voice down – I’m on your team.
    3. Fairness. don’t treat some people as more important than others. We all occupy a seat on the same side of the stands.
    4. Don’t lie to me. After all, we are ‘family.’ Be open, and be transparent, even when the news is tough.
    5. Respect. The fact that we wear the same shirt should allow us to have levels of accountability towards our common purpose, demonstrated and guided by our culture.

When you recognise that an organisation invites people to share a common T-shirt, you meet one of the deepest needs in people: to belong. This belonging leads to protection, kindness, and a desire for each other to thrive and live to their potential. The visible T-shirt enables
people to show up and thrive. When the opposite happens, you wear the same T-shirt but don’t show care. This disables good work and causes us to go backwards and can even become frenemies.

We Wear the Same T-shirt: Why You Need to Cultivate Trust in Your Team

What’s A Frenemy And What Does It Have to Do with Building Trust in Your Team?

Do you have people in your life that are sometimes for you, and sometimes against you? In other words, they are inconsistent. When you’re with them, they sometimes praise you. But another time they might embarrass you, reject you, or are harmful to you. This results in you
feeling threatened because you don’t know how they’re going to show up.  The research shows that we are more comfortable with enemies than with frenemies. With an enemy, you know what to expect, and you don’t expect help. But with a frenemy, you are uncertain. Therefore your defence system is heightened. 

When you gossip in the workplace, you create uncertainty. Gossip in the workplace is a frenemy characteristic, and it confuses. We are wearing the same shirt, but we are doing misaligned behaviours that create threats and lower engagement. That is why culture in an

organisation is so important. It defines expectations based on our commonality. Good culture recognises expectations and how dangerous frenemies can be. Remember a frenemy is someone that wears the same T-shirt but demonstrates trust-breaking behaviours.

Trust Is Built When You Feel You Belong

So, let’s sum this all up. Do we want engaged people? Yes, we do. Without engagement, we don’t thrive. What creates engagement? People who wear the same T-shirt live into what that means. When we wear the same T-shirt but our behaviours do not foster trust, we curse
ourselves into mediocrity. 

We violate the fundamental principle that we need to belong. And belonging means we are cared for. In your organisation, make it clear to your people what wearing the T-shirt means, and get tough on discrepancies like gossip, disrespect, dishonesty, and other behaviours that
break the fibre of the T-shirt.

We Wear the Same T-shirt: Why You Need to Cultivate Trust in Your Team