Paolo Nespoli: It feels to me, the rare moment you have in life — that, you know, surreal situation — and you are like living in a different time zone, in a different time speed.
Adam Grant: This is Paolo Nespoli. He's an astronaut.
(Radio) PN: Roger, stand by a second.
In 2011, on the International Space Station, Paolo and his crewmate, Cady, had to do an insane maneuver using a robotic arm to capture a free-flying supply ship. Only one crew had ever pulled this off before.
PN: And I still remember when we actually were in space, just about to capture the thing, and Cady had set up everything and I was near her and we had the control center on the radio. I was the one talking on the radio and she was the one moving the arm, and you know, we agreed, OK, we are ready.
(Voices over the radio)
AG: Paolo says it's like driving your car at 300 miles an hour and trying to match the speed of the car next to you precisely so you can push a button inside that car. If they don't catch the ship in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time, it could crash into the station. And even if they don't die, they'll lose all the supplies.
PN: And I grabbed the mic and talked to Houston, "Houston, we are ready to grapple the vehicle." And I felt my voice was shaking. I was shaking. I mean, my heart rate might have been, I don't know — I mean, I felt like, oh my God, this is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy.
AG: How do you get to the point where you trust your colleagues so much that you're willing to put your life in their hands?
I'm Adam Grant. And this is WorkLife, my podcast with TED. I'm an organizational psychologist. I study how to make work not suck. In this show, I'm inviting myself in to some truly unusual places, where they've mastered something I wish everyone knew about work. Today: trust. And why the strongest bonds are forged in the most challenging situations. Thanks to Accenture for sponsoring this episode.
So, Paolo and his crewmate, Cady, are flying on the space station, which is the size of a factory. They're trying to capture a ship the size of a semitrailer and the robotic arm they're using is the size of a crane. They only have one chance to grab the ship.
PN: And then Cady started moving the arm and she moved it so nicely, so controlled and she went there like nothing and zoom! And got it. Houston 1: Capture of the Japanese HTV cargo craft confirmed at 5:41am Central Time. Houston 2: And congratulations to the HTV flight control team. Great work today.
PN: And we look at each other like —
Houston, we captured it. We use this line all the time, you know. In space, we joke, "Houston, we have no problem."
AG: This couldn't have happened if they didn't build trust. How do you build trust in your workplace? You do things that help people like each other. Company parties and picnics, softball games, team dinners. But liking your coworkers isn't all it's cracked up to be. Research suggests that when people go to professional mixers, they don't really mix. They just end up hanging out with their existing friends. At company parties people mostly just get closer to the colleagues who are similar to them. And those people, the ones you like the most? Odds are, you rely on them more than you should. Think about the last time you reached out to a colleague for everyday advice, help or ideas on solving a problem. Who did you go to? In a study at a tech company it turned out that people went to the colleagues they liked, regardless of their competence. I found something similar in a hospital. When nurses wanted a second opinion on a diagnosis, they often went to the colleagues they felt most comfortable with instead of the true experts. "How much do I like this person?" is the wrong question to ask about a teammate. The right question is, "How much can I count on this person?" If you're an astronaut, that's a life-and-death question. So NASA has a way to build trust in crews like Paolo's. They send them out into the wilderness.
John Kanengieter: Never ever underestimate the power of sleeping under the stars for one night.
AG: That's John Kanengieter. He's a wilderness training and leadership expert. He's the guy NASA called to prepare astronauts for long-duration space flights. John takes people on expeditions through rugged landscapes to learn about group dynamics.
JK: In fact, I'm leaving for Antarctica in a couple of weeks to help lead an expedition down there.
AG: Your job is so much cooler than mine.
JK: I don't know about that.
AG: In an expedition, the crew decides on a goal for each day, like, reaching a summit before sundown. Then they come up with a strategy and assign roles. John's not leading the group, he's just observing. Because usually, the crews don't have experience working together for an extended period of time. John remembers one crew that came to a critical decision.
JK: Do we go right or do we go left, basically. And they chose right. When looking at the map, you knew they needed to go left.
AG: And you just let that happen?
JK: You just let that happen.
AG: Do you feel like a jerk?
I tell you, the first feeling that comes over you, is sort of hanging your head and going, "Oh, man, this is going to be a long day." Because you're carrying a pack as well. There are times where you just want to intercede but you need to just bite your tongue because when you do that, you really rob someone of a learning opportunity.
AG: The learning opportunity is to see everyone's skills in action. Because trust is situation-specific. You rarely have people in your life that you trust in every situation. You might trust a friend to decide on the restaurant for dinner, but not to decide what your next job should be. And you probably have colleagues you trust to drive you in a car but not to fly you in an airplane. In the wilderness, it can take a little while to figure out who to trust for what.
JK: Adam, if you imagine going on a trip with somebody for about four or five days, chances are you can probably put up with most of the stuff that they might give you over that period of time. There is some sort of magic that happens, I think, between seven and ten days when really the honeymoon's over and people are really themselves and you see people for both who they are in their great goodness and also the challenges that they bring.
AG: I often see people try to build trust by meeting once a month for lunch. The hope is that once you know each other well, you'll start opening up. But I bet you've had experiences where that never happens. The relationship just doesn't move forward. It stagnates. When the interactions are short and you leave a lot of time in between, you can stay at the surface. The real you doesn't come out. Before NASA introduced wilderness training, most crews didn't spend long stretches of time together until they launched into space.
Jeff Ashby: I think that was a problem. Because we never got to the point, before we did the canyon trips, where we really understood how each other dealt with stress, dealt with being tired. Dealt with being hungry.
AG: Meet Jeff Ashby. Jeff is the chief of mission assurance at Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Jeff Bezos. Before that, he was a navy test pilot and then a space shuttle commander at NASA. To prepare for spaceflight, Jeff trained with his crew outdoors in Utah.
JA: I think the best way to get to know someone, whether it's a brand new crew or someone that you've known maybe all your life and worked with, is to immerse yourself with that person for a period of days in a stressful environment.
AG: Anytime you're working in a group on a difficult problem you're going to have moments of stress. Knowing how people will react is key to building trust. Because you can't trust someone whose behavior you can't predict.
JA: I learned what their stress response was and they learned the same things about me. And when you have that knowledge and you have a trusting environment, you're really set up to be able to help each other in the best way.
AG: When we first meet people, we think of their behavior as driven by their personality. He's always anxious. She's easily frustrated. But when we go through challenges together, we start to become more aware of how different traits come out in different situations. Stressful situations help us identify the kinds of moments where he's anxious and where she's frustrated. We all have our own emotional triggers. Some people get triggered by disrespect. They fly off the handle when colleagues are stubborn, rude, selfish or judgmental. Others lose it when their colleagues lack motivation. They can't stand working with someone who procrastinates or shows up unprepared. And then there are people who are most bothered by shallow thinking. Like when collaborators do a shoddy analysis or pretend to know things they don't. There's evidence that people who know each other's emotional triggers have more trust and less conflict. They're able to avoid pushing each other's buttons. Talk about what your emotional triggers are. That's a step you can take to build trust in your team. Whenever I work with new people I tell them that one of mine is when someone ignores data. Whatever your colleagues' emotional triggers are, you're more likely to learn about them when you interact under stress.
JA: I think you have to get to the point where you disagree. And disagree at an emotional level. That is accelerated by adversity in my mind, which is why we took our crews to the canyons in winter. There was very little water, we had to chip through the ice on mud puddles to get drinking water. We had very few hours of daylight. And we had the cold to deal with.
AG: That's my idea of a fun trip.
JA: You know, I wouldn't recommend that you go for 11 days in the canyons on the first date. But you certainly wouldn't waste any time with the partner that wasn't right if you did that. You would know at the end of 11 days.
AG: I feel like we need to call Chris Harrison and tell him that "The Bachelor" has done it all wrong.
JA: Yes, exactly. Yeah, I mean, in a sense it is. Those interactions are broken up.
AG: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Hold on, Jeff. It sounds like you've watched "The Bachelor."
JA: You know, I saw it once. Out of the corner of my eye.
AG: Stress doesn't just teach us about each other. It also forces us to be vulnerable together.
Dan Coyle: If we're vulnerable together, we're going to get close. We're going to trust each other, we're going to cooperate, we're going to have cohesion. It's the way we're built.
AG: That's Dan Coyle. He's a journalist who studies the science of high performance. In his latest book, he wrote about how groups build trust. And his interest in the topic goes way back.
DC: I grew up in, I guess you could say — A dream of a writer is to be an outsider. I grew up in Alaska, which is pretty far outside. You know, it's an environment — you're sort of strangers in a land where it's hard to get along by yourself. Where you really do have to rely on others. And so it creates a kind of — everybody's vulnerable together. And it makes you close.
AG: When you think about getting to know people in a group, what comes first — trust or vulnerability? Most of us assume that you have to build trust in order to be vulnerable. But actually, the opposite is true.
DC: Our intuition has it backwards. You do not build trust in order to be vulnerable. When you're vulnerable, it builds trust. Being vulnerable together builds closeness and creates it.
AG: Consider an experiment where people were told to ask strangers simple but increasingly personal questions: When was the last time you sang to yourself? Or to someone else? Is there something you've dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it? If your house was on fire, what one belonging would you save and why?
DC: And then you answer those questions back and forth to each other. And at the end of it, you take these tests of cooperation and closeness and it turns out you're way closer. In fact, two of the original strangers they gave the experimenter to got married.
So it's not a bad way to generate closeness. Maybe you've got to be careful who you do that experiment with.
AG: Why do we get this backward then?
DC: Because in the modern world, in our work environment, it's a high-risk environment. We don't want to betray a lack of competence or confidence. So, there's a natural — We are status-oriented creatures. We want to protect our status. And so we default to that a lot. If we're in a social situation, we often can default to just saying, "If I took a risk here and showed a weakness, that might affect my status." So this teeter-totter that goes on literally in our brains, but also in our social environment — we're torn.
AG: But when I talk to groups about how important it is to be vulnerable first before they build trust, they kind of look like they've just seen a ghost. And I hear people say things like, "Well, OK, but why don't we just do a Friday afternoon ping-pong tournament instead? That will be way more fun." What do you say to those people?
DC: Well, they're right, it would be way more fun. It would be incredibly fun. It would be a type of engagement that is delightful. The only problem is you can't just have that kind of fun. You know, fun comes in different flavors. There's shallow fun, which is having that ping-pong tournament, going out and having a blast together. That's wonderful, but that kind of wears off. A deep fun of actual connection to the experience and giving ownership over that experience to the whole group ends up being more powerful and contributing more to the bottom line.
AG: Some teams try to build trust through activities like going through a maze blindfolded or doing trust falls. But that's mostly friendly interaction and fake vulnerability. You're all on good terms and you know the other people will catch you. Deep fun involves real vulnerability. You have intense interaction around solving hard problems with high stakes. Like a team of lawyers, trying to figure out how to present the best closing argument in a case. Or a team of mechanics trying to diagnose an engine failure. They might not say it's fun in the moment, but they often look back on the challenge as a highlight of their job.
DC: When you go inside a great culture, they're not particularly bubbly. They are intense and there's a feeling of togetherness, for sure, a deep feeling of togetherness. There are places where you're sort of immersed in this hard, shoulder-to-shoulder work of solving really difficult problems in a team. And that experience is almost like a drug to us. To work at that very high level with complete sense of safety and belonging and risk-taking and complexity is a unique life experience.
AG: Stressful situations help you figure out if you can count on someone. But is that really possible if you don't even like them? More on that after the break.
This is going to be a different kind of ad. I've played a personal role in selecting the sponsors for this podcast because they all have interesting cultures of their own. Today, we’re going inside the workplace at Accenture.
You know there are some parts of your life that just don't belong in the office.
Darnell Thompson: Don't talk about religion, don't talk about race relations don't talk about those things at work, right?
AG: Never. But what if you took the exact opposite approach? What would happen if you invited employees at a huge company to talk openly about race and religion? That's what Accenture did. It's an incredible story. And one that we can't tell in just one sitting. So, here's part one, and the second half will come in next week's episode. It all started with Darnell Thompson. He's an IT manager at Accenture. In the summer of 2016, he was deeply disturbed by the news of two police shootings of unarmed black men.
DT: I was upset. I'm raising, at the time, one child. He's a young black boy and I know he's cute now, but at some point in time when he's a teenager some people age him up and make him an adult. And it's scary.
AG: The unending string of injustices felt like more than he could bear. So he posted about it on Facebook.
DT: "The violence will continue until there's a cultural change in the perception of black people. We are not your enemies, we eat, drink and breathe like you do. So why do you treat us so unjustly?"
AG: Were you Facebook friends with some of your coworkers?
DT: A lot of my coworkers, and one of them happened to be Ellyn Shook.
Ellyn Shook: I'm Ellyn Shook, I'm the chief leadership and human resources officer at Accenture.
AG: Ellyn and Darnell had known each other for years. He's her go-to IT expert.
ES: I seem to be technology-challenged and Darnell has come to my rescue for over a decade.
AG: But like most of us, Darnell wasn't comfortable being totally open with his coworkers. So when Ellyn saw Darnell's Facebook post, she was shocked.
ES: It was not his style. And it was very concerning to me.
AG: She decided to reach out.
ES: I called Darnell to see what was going on and I really wanted to call to comfort him.
DT: And I said, "Ellyn, I am between a state of rage and panic."
ES: And he was frightened for his family, he was frightened for what was happening every single day and he was coming to work and nobody was talking about what was happening. And he was feeling angst.
DT: I have no outlet, you know, I have to show up to work and I have to put on this face and the face doesn't necessarily represent you know, how I'm actually feeling.
AG: The conversation affected Ellyn deeply. She realized that if Darnell felt this way ...
ES: So must other people. And we decided that if it was affecting our people so seriously, that we needed to do it and we needed to do it fast.
AG: They set up a meeting to talk about race. That was the beginning of Building Bridges. It's an Accenture program that has changed the way I think about what's possible to share at work. Accenture is working to be one of the most truly human companies in the digital age. We'll find out how on the next episode of WorkLife. For now, go to Accenture.com/diversity.
Of all the things that grease the wheels of trust, the strongest might be similarity. We instinctively trust the people who are like us. The ones who grew up in the same town, love the same movies, or belong to the same place of worship. When we have something in common, we feel like we're part of a group with shared values and goals. It can be a lot harder to trust people who come from different backgrounds. John Kanengieter learned that firsthand. For years, he led astronaut crews on long trips through the wilderness. They came out trusting each other and working better together. But one day back in 2010, John got a call from NASA about an emergency. The crew of Expedition 26 was preparing to go to the Space Station. They had major cultural differences and only a few days free in their training schedule to come together as a group.
JK: We had a Russian commander, an Italian astronaut with the European Space Agency and then American woman astronaut.
Cady Coleman: I'm Cady Coleman, I'm an astronaut.
AG: Cady is a research chemist. She has a doctorate, she was an Air Force colonel and she served as Chief of Robotics for the Astronaut Office. She also plays the flute in a band of astronauts, called "Bandella."
PN: Hello, hello, this is Paolo.
AG: Paolo is an engineer, an avid scuba diver and parachute jumper and the European Space Agency's oldest active astronaut. You heard him in the beginning. The third crew member, Dmitri, has retired from the astronaut corps. He's living in Russia and wasn't available to interview. Cady, Paolo and Dmitri are the crew that caught the supply ship using the robotic arm.
JK: I always think of that crew when I'm telling this story, like it's a beginning of a bad joke. You know, like, an Italian, a Russian and American astronaut walk into a bar ... And that's literally how it was, they had really been thrust together. So, the idea was, what can we do to help make them a team, and by the way, we only have three days.
AG: Coming from different places wasn't their only challenge.
CC: It was new for Dmitri to work with women. There were very few women cosmonauts for him to work with. And so it wasn't his experience and basically it was hard for him to hear my questions.
PN: I would say, from my point of view, seeing and watching the dynamics there into the crew, I will say it was easier for me to show to Dmitri that I could give the right contribution to the flight and enhance the flight and it was a little bit more difficult for Cady.
AG: So, John had to figure out what to do, without the benefit of time or the outdoors. The crew was coming in with separate identities as individuals. But John wanted them to create a group identity. To see themselves as members of a team with a common mission. John took the group into crew quarters. It's basically a lockdown where they're normally quarantined to make sure they don't get sick before a spaceflight. He had them do simple activities together, like cooking a meal and raising something they had in common, which strangely, they hadn't discussed.
JK: The question that is a profound question for these folks, that just sort of opens up, was the question of, very simply, why did you want to become an astronaut? And, how did you get here? Rarely do they talk about it with each other. You just are an astronaut.
AG: So they shared their stories. I like to think of them as origin stories. For once, that's not a term from psychology. I got it from comic books.
PN: I wanted to be an astronaut since when I was kid. I clearly remember watching the American astronauts going to the Moon and I remember specifically watching the images from the Moon, with the astronaut going around with this little ATV. And I always said, oh my God, I want to go to the Moon and see what happens if I try to scoot around with that thing.
CC: For me, it wasn't when I was a little kid, because girls just didn't do that. You know, I would see a picture of the Mercury Seven and none of those people looked like me and it never occurred to me to do that. Until Sally Ride, who's the first American woman astronaut, came to MIT and gave a talk and I looked at her and I thought, "Wow! Maybe I could have that job." And I think it takes that, a little bit. To see someone that you can relate to and realize that that could really be you. It made all the difference for me.
AG: Similarities are more likely to build trust when they're rare. In one experiment, when people learned they shared type E fingerprints, they felt a little closer. But if they were told the fingerprint type they shared was rare, only two percent of the population had it, they felt a much stronger bond and were significantly more likely to help each other. So if you want to build trust, don't just look for commonalities. Look for uncommon commonalities. We want to fit in and stand out. But most workplaces focus on the fitting in part. They hire on culture fit. And that's a great recipe for groupthink, because they end up just cloning the same backgrounds and skills over and over. They favor similarity and weed out diversity of thought. Instead of culture fit, what you want is cultural contribution. Don't ask whether someone matches your culture. Ask what's missing from your culture and bring in people who can enrich it. That doesn't require you to be best friends.
PN: Liking your crew members is one thing. Trusting them is another one. You know, you may not like somebody, but you trust that that person will act properly, especially in case of emergency, and will do their part. And I think this world where everybody likes each other at the same time and the same way, it's almost a fairy tale world.
AG: Building a group identity helps with trust, but you still have to decide whether you can count on the individuals in the group. When you're deciding whether to trust someone, what do you pay attention to?
Cecily Cooper: If you're thinking about trust in a work environment, these two dimensions of trustworthiness are really important. The first one is character.
AG: That's Cecily Cooper, a trust expert at the University of Miami.
CC: But the interesting thing is, in a work environment competence is also really important when it comes to trusting somebody else. So, you have to believe that this other person has the requisite skills and abilities to get the job done. Because if they don't, you're not going to want to interact with them you're not going to rely on them for different things. So, both character and competence are equally important in the workplace.
AG: Think about the worst coworker you've ever had. Your least preferred coworker. There's a whole body of research on how that person's qualities actually reveal something about you. If your least preferred coworker was incompetent, that suggests you put competence first when forming trust. If your least preferred coworker was a jerk or a liar, it might mean you care more about character. Not everyone values those two types of trust equally. So, when you're in a group, you want to build trust differently with each individual.
CC: If you hit them one on one and can get each person individually to increase their trust in you, that's the better bet.
AG: For Dmitri, trust was all about competence. As a general rule, astronauts are incredibly competent. They're selected among thousands of candidates because they're highly intelligent and capable — they have the right stuff — and they go through extensive skill training. It's hard to imagine anyone not trusting them to do their jobs well. But it was pretty clear that at first Dmitri didn't trust Cady's abilities. By the way, Dmitri's nickname is Dima.
CC: One of the first days that we were together in the capsule doing, sort of, engine out experiment or simulation ... One of the things that I did was go ahead and calculate, you know, how much time do the other engines need to burn. And I showed him, just by sticking out a piece of paper — I held out "1:23" or whatever the time was and Dima just kind of pushed it out of the way. Like, "Hey, I've calculated this, I don't really need your input, thank you," is what that said to me, right?
(Voices over the radio)
And then we continued and it turns out that he and Paolo had actually miscalculated and in the debrief of the simulation they were talking about what the right time was and Dima reached over, he grabbed my piece of paper he looked at the time, which was the correct time, and he looked at me and he said, "You'll do the calculating."
AG: Cady established her competence and earned Dmitri's trust. But for her to trust him she needed to know that he wasn't just about work — that he cared deeply about other people, too. Early on, it was hard to get Dmitri to open up.
CC: Dmitri is a very traditional Russian cosmonaut. And so in order for you to relate to him, if you really have something to say, it needs to be about business. Dissimilarities were standing in the way of trust. But a little vulnerability helped them find common ground that went beyond culture.
CC: One thing I discovered was that when I asked him how his family was, how his son was — he had a young son who was just a couple of years old and he would bring him over to the cottages where we, the Americans, stayed, and we would all play ping-pong together. And when you see that Dmitri with that smile on his face, that is a different Dmitri.
AG: When someone discloses something personal, you start to see them more as an individual rather than a group stereotype. Trust develops as you learn about their family, their hobbies, their origin story.
CC: Whether you are the crew going to Mars or you are the crew in your house, as a family, the people that you're working with, the way to really get the most out of the people on your team is to never stop looking at each other and letting each other surprise you.
AG: Building trust requires risk. Putting yourself out there isn't always safe. But sometimes, the riskiest move is to never take a risk at all. Because it guarantees that you'll keep your colleagues at a distance.
CC: When you're sitting around a table and you're just getting to know each other there's no question that every single person around that table has something to contribute. And you have to be brave enough to just say, "Hey, this is what I do, this is what I know." In order for collaboration really to happen, somebody has to be brave. Somebody has to be open and almost always all of us have to be both.
AG: In every walk of life, if you look at great crews, you'll see trust at the heart of their success. If you don't trust the people on your team, you'll end up playing it too safe. Trust makes it possible to aim higher, to leap further and to know that someone truly has your back if you fall.
(Radio) Engines at maximum thrust and liftoff for the Soyuz team A 20 as Cady Coleman, Paolo Nespoli and Dmitri Kondratyev head toward the International Space Station.
CC: We were the second crew to ever capture a supply ship using the robotic arm from the space station. And we did great work on that mission. With the crew that didn't have the luxury of having those little places where we automatically, kind of knit together, all of us. The idea of extending the mission came up at the very end of my stay. And I said I would spend another six months here in a minute. And I would spend it with these people. And I think that that is truly a testament to the fact that when the mission is just so clearly more important than the way you feel about each other, then you can make the team work.
AG: Even if your crew doesn't click right away, it's possible to form a bond. The best way to earn trust is to show trust. And that's what vulnerability conveys. When you open up about where you came from, who you are and what stresses you out, it sends a clear signal to your group: I trust you.
WorkLife is hosted by me, Adam Grant. The show is produced by TED with Transmitter Media and Pineapple Street Media. Our team includes Colin Helms, Gretta Cohn, Dan O'Donnell, Angela Cheng and Janet Lee. This episode was produced by Gabrielle Lewis. Our show is mixed by David Herman with help from Dan Dzula. Original music by Hahnsdale Hsu. Special thanks to our sponsors: Accenture, Bonobos, JP Morgan Chase and Warby Parker. Next time on WorkLife: why faking a smile at work might be a shortcut to burnout.
Woman: I always think of the flight attendants that have to say goodbye to each and every passenger that leaves the plane.
AG: Ugh, I hate that.
Woman: Goodbye now!
AG: That's next time on WorkLife. Thanks for listening. If you liked what you heard, please rate and review the show. It helps people find us. OK, one more thing about astronauts. It didn't quite fit into the theme of trust, but it's so interesting that I can't resist telling you about it. Psychologists find that leaving the comfort of planet Earth changes us. After going to space, astronauts become less concerned about achievement and enjoyment and more concerned about humanity and the environment.
JA: There's a name for the effect, it's called the overview effect.
AG: That’s space shuttle commander Jeff Ashby again.
JA: And I experienced this as well. The change is from one of a very individually driven, goal oriented person to someone who is more concerned about the universal good. Looking back at this Earth, circling the entire planet in 90 minutes and seeing how fragile the little layer is in which all of humankind exists. You can easily, from space, see the connection between someone on one side of the planet to someone on the other. And there are no borders evident. So it appears as just this one common layer that we all exist in.
AG: Are you looking forward to going again?
JA: I'm looking forward to getting millions of people into space.
Is that a joke or are you serious?
JA: No, that's that's our goal, that's our vision to put millions of people living and working in space.
AG: And when do you see that happening?
JA: Well probably not before February.
JA: I think it's going to take us a few years.