Trust is being able to swim into the mouth of a shark

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A male great white and accompanying pilot fish.
Copyright Todd Winner

Trivia: the Great White Shark

Fact #1 – Number of teeth: At any time, a great white shark may have about 300 teeth in various stages of development within its jaw.

Fact #2 – Tooth size: An adult great white shark’s tooth can measure up to 2.5 inches.

Fact #3 – Bite force: In 2008, scientists at the University of New South Wales, Australia determined that the great white shark is one of the hardest biting creatures alive, with a bite force that can reach about 1.8 tonnes! That is 20 times greater than a human’s bite.

The Challenge: Who would dare swim into the mouth of a shark?

Let’s Meet Our Candidate: the Pilot Fish

Few fish would dare swim near a shark in fear of becoming their next meal. Yet the pilot fish form mutualistic symbiotic team relationships with sharks. Pilot fish follow sharks and get protection from their predators since other animals which might eat the pilot fish will not come near a shark. In return, sharks do not eat them because the pilot fish eat parasites which feed off sharks, keeping the sharks healthy.

This is certainly a relationship built on trust – small pilot fish are sometimes even seen swimming into the mouth of sharks to eat off the shark’s teeth! That takes a courage which can only come from the presence of firm trust between the team members. For the pilot fish, they could easily be eaten up should the shark take a wrong bite. Meanwhile for the shark, it is allowing the pilot fish to move up closer to its more sensitive and vulnerable eyes, as opposed to its tough armour-like sandpaper-texture skin. Pilot fish also help to clean parasites off the most vulnerable parts of the shark, such as the gills.

Stories by sailors have described the shark and pilot fish as a well-bonded team. In some instances, when a shark had been captured, some sailors reported that the pilot fish were still following the ship (and shark) for up to six weeks later.

Trust is the Foundation of Team Relationships

Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

In Patrick Lencioni’s book ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’, the absence of trust was placed at the very foundation of the pyramid of dysfunctions in a team. Trust is the heart of a cohesive team and teamwork is impossible without it. Without trust, there is a fear of being vulnerable with team members which prevents openness and freeing of focus, energy and attention on the job at hand. Lencioni identifies some of these vulnerabilities in the context of team building:

  • Skill deficiencies
  • Interpersonal weaknesses
  • Mistakes
  • Requests for help

Teams that lack trust waste time and energy managing their behaviours and interactions to ‘look good’ with one another. They seldom ask for help nor offer help to others, seeking instead to conceal their weaknesses and protect their own reputations. Morale is low.

Meanwhile, high performing teams are built upon the foundations of confidence and trust. Team members know that they can admit their weaknesses and mistakes, and take risks in offering feedback and assistance, without being torn apart. The team’s energy is in high flow as members tap into their collective experience and skills, and devote time and energy to important issues rather than playing politics.

Vulnerability-based trust isn’t created overnight. It takes shared experiences over time, proven follow-through and credibility, and a deep understanding of team members. However, a focused approach, such as The Five Dysfunctions of a Team programme, can help accelerate the process of trust formation.

MindLife Success is an authorised Pfeiffer Partner to deliver Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team programme. Contact us for more information on the workshop and profiling solutions for your organisation.

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