Here Are 4 Ways to Effectively Build More Trust and Freedom in Your Team

Joost Minnaar
Written by Joost Minnaar October 24, 2016

Earlier this year we met briefly with Henry Stewart, founder and CEO of Happy, at the Arbejdsglæde conference in Copenhagen. He inspired us with his humorous anecdotes on creating happy workplaces and instantly deserved a spot on our Bucket List.

We stayed in contact and decided to pay Henry a visit in his hometown London some weeks ago.

In early 1987 and before founding his current organization Happy, Henry was the finance officer for a left-wing tabloid newspaper called The News of Sunday. The newspaper had successfully raised £6.5 million from trade unions and a local authority pension fund to launch the publication. Six weeks after launch, the publication was bankrupt. Henry: “The problem was not the talent or dedication of the people. It was the working environment. We created an environment where people didn't feel trusted, there was a strong 'blame' culture and no real sense of freedom. As a result, it was nearly impossible to get anything done.”

Start with trust

Determined to learn from the failure at The News of Sunday, Henry set up Happy just a year later. This time Henry decided to start with trust, thanks to his biggest source of inspiration: Ricardo Semler’s book ‘Maverick’. With Happy he wanted to change the way in how we treat people in our organizations. And it worked! He has built his inspiring and successful company entirely around this idea and even trains other companies in how they can do the same. But how do you practically create the necessary trust and freedom within an organization?

1. Pre-approve

Henry: “The easiest thing to do and to start with as a manager is to pre-approve. It makes people unhappy to be micro-managed and layers of approval get in the way of getting things done. Instead, as a manager approve ideas and solutions of employees before they come up with it. You need to agree on a budget and guideline but pre-approve the complete implementation. Whatever idea they come up with, is what will happen.”

2. Set your own targets

Henry: “The key indicator of trust is to get your employees to set their own targets.” Henry explains his point with a beautiful example of an IT company facing a major process problem. The example shows that when you let people set their own target, they often set tougher targets and are more likely and more motivated to achieve them. Henry: “At this particular organization it had always been a long process to book out a laptop if they needed one when travelling. The agreed response time was two weeks from application. It was clear that they needed to shorten the response time but left it to the team. The team set the target at 5 minutes. The moment they achieve it, they reduced the target to two minutes. They now even got the target down to one minute.”

3. Celebrate mistakes

Albert einstein

Henry: “The highest energy session are the ones in where we celebrate mistakes.” We encounter this more and more. Innovative organizations are starting to focus on creating no-blame cultures and are encouraging innovation by celebrating mistakes through rituals like ‘FuckUp Fridays’ and the ‘Church of Fail’. And it seems to work, minimizing the fear of failure and celebrating mistakes turns out to be the best way of pushing people in trying new stuff. Henry: “If problems result from a mistake, it is rarely the mistake that causes it. More often, it is the cover up.”

Henry tells us the story that happened at a British plant of the chemical company Huntsman. Henry: “At the wall of the plant there used to be a big red button which, if pressed, discharged the chemicals into the local river. One day the scaffolders were in, and one of them nudged the button with his pole. His scaffolding company sacked him. But, when Huntsman found out, they insisted he be reinstated, sent back to work for them and even held a party to celebrate. Nobody saw him press the button, but he had taken responsibility and gone to the control room and let them know. As a result it could be fixed in 30 minutes, rather than 24 hours, there was minimal environmental damage and no fine. Holding that party sent a message round, and it spread like wildfire, that Huntsman is a no blame culture.”

4. Do what you’re good at

Henry: “People work best when they feel good about themselves. So the main principle of management should be making people feel good.” And people feel good about themselves if they do what they are good at. If they are able to use their strengths at work. Henry: “One of the simplest ways to make your people happier, and more productive, is to ensure they spend their time at work doing what they are good at. That may sound obvious but it is surprisingly rare. Based on asking over a million people, Gallup found the number agreeing with the statement, ‘At work today, I got to do what I am best at’, was in the UK just 17%.”

Want to learn more on the practices Henry uses to create more happy workplaces, check out his Happy Manifesto. You can download it here for free.

Written by Joost Minnaar
Joost Minnaar
Co-founder Corporate Rebels. My daily focus is on research, writing, and anything else related to making work more fun.
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