Help your team build confidence in their skills for optimal performance


What could you do, how great could you be if you weren’t afraid? The greatest prohibitor of growth in both our personal and professional lives is ourselves; we stand in our own way. Why? Most often it’s because we lack confidence in our abilities, or what is referred to as a confidence gap. We stop ourselves from achieving greatness because we don’t think we have what it takes to do so, however, we are often well equipped. Our disbelief in ourselves, therefore, keeps up from moving forward even if we have the skillset to succeed. 

The Confidence Gap

Everybody talks about a skills gap as the reason people do not reach their potential–the “gap” that exists between what an employee can actually do and the skills they need to do their job effectively. In other words, they need more knowledge to perform well on the job. However, I’ve found so often that it’s a confidence gap that prevents people most from making progress. Individuals fear that they do not know enough (even though they do) and are therefore not competent. For example, I hear facilitators say all of the time that they deal with imposter syndrome or the feeling that they are far less competent than other people perceive them to be. They feel that they are ill-equipped to lead a team or they question if they are the right person for the job. What this boils down to is a lack of confidence–disbelief in one’s own skills and know-how of what they’re doing, how they’re leading, how they’re showing up in the facilitation space. 

I also see this confidence gap in companies as a whole. It was evident in a Design Sprint we ran for Favor, the food delivery app. They already knew all of the information we presented them, but until the Design Sprint, they lacked the confidence to do the work. The workshop helped them get comfortable with doing the necessary work on their own. In this case, and in so many others I see, it’s not that people lack the knowledge or skill to do something, it’s that they’re not assured of their capability to execute it. 

It’s important to acknowledge that there are a lot of stereotypes and threats that can damage an individual’s confidence and therefore performance. Notably, statistics show that there is a confidence gap between men and women–disproportionately favoring men. A study by Cornell psychologist David Dunning and the Washington State University psychologist Joyce Ehrlinger showed that women avoid careers in science because they believe themselves to be less competent than men. In the study, women and men scored equally on a science quiz but women underestimated their performance because they thought less of their scientific reasoning abilities than men did. Linda Baker, professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University, shares findings in her book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide that demonstrate how damaging the implications of this confidence divide can be. In studies of business-school students, she found that men negotiate salary four times more than women do, and when women do negotiate they ask for 30% less money.

The Atlantic explored the gender-influenced confidence gap in their article ‘The Confidence Gap’: “Compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities. This disparity stems from factors ranging from upbringing to biology.” It’s important to be aware of underlined factors that affect confidence so that you can help people remove them as roadblocks when necessary. 

Create a Culture of Confidence

Inspiring confidence in others is essential when you’re a leader. Team members that lack confidence do not perform as well and ultimately hold the entire team back. The best way to help people become comfortable with their skills, and thereby gain confidence, is to practice them. If you are leadership looking to help your team build confidence, one approach is to give them moments of practice. You can encourage building and practicing skills by creating groups or cohorts, building community, and/or establishing Slack groups for people to network and learn from each other. One real-world example of this is Cisco’s Change Lab. It’s a community that meets regularly to support and inspire its members. The group maintains momentum on progress and thereby builds confidence in their skills. 

One way we offer skillset support and help grow confidence in facilitators at Voltage Control is with our weekly Facilitation Lab; it’s our “confidence booster” for the facilitation community. We intentionally create a safe space for facilitators to practice their skills and get comfortable with facilitation so that they can confidently execute their abilities in real-world situations. 

What are different ways you and your team can support one another to practice your craft and build confidence? Let’s look at a few effective ways leadership can instill confidence to get the most out of their team members.

1. Establish agency/authority of confidence in your team

When companies invest in their team, and more importantly transparently demonstrate to them that they are investing in them, it boosts teams’ confidence. Whether it’s investing time, money, or resources, gestures from authority that communicate, “You are worthwhile and I trust you to do this work,” are ultimately saying, “I have confidence in you.” Individuals tend to have more confidence in themselves when they feel supported by leadership. A real-world example is Adobe’s Kickbox program. It’s an initiative to enable employees to take an active role in their company’s innovation process by submitting and validating their own ideas. Team members receive boxes with necessary open-source materials to help them be more individually innovative. Included in the boxes is a credit card with money on it to support individuals’ ideas. Diana Joseph, former Senior Manager of Learning Research at Adobe, now CEO of the Corporate Accelerator Forum, says “the credit card in each Kickbox sends a clear message that the company trusts the employee — to do meaningful things when given the resources and to recognize what’s worth doing in the first place.  In other words, the company trusts you to lead.”

2. Create an intrinsically comfortable environment for people to grow 

While it’s necessary for people to practice their skills in order to get better, many people are afraid to do so. They fear that if they make a mistake it will reflect badly upon their capabilities. The irony is that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The only way to practice and build skills is to get comfortable with failing forward. Doing something is the only way to learn how to do it and failure inevitably accompanies it. When leadership creates a safe environment for people to try and fail, team members are more comfortable taking action. People need to know that leadership believes in them. Establish a foundation of psychological safety in your organization. Let team members know that not only is it okay for them to fail, but it’s encouraged because it’s how they grow. Prioritize growth over perfection. Team members feel supported and safe to build their skills when leadership shows that they value their growth and support its evolution. 

3. Break the Learning loop 

It’s one thing to think about what you want to learn or the skills you want to obtain and another thing entirely to actually experience learning them. The best way to learn is to learn by doing. You can know something cognitively, it can theoretically make sense, but it won’t completely “click” for you until you experience it for yourself. For example, say you want to learn how to throw a baseball. You can read about how to throw a baseball and understand how it works, but you won’t know how to do it until you actually try it for yourself. It’s imperative that you prioritize actionable learning–that is, learning skills by exercising them–to help people build confidence. The more people practice, the more capable they feel to execute, and the more confident they feel in their abilities. The more confident and capable they feel, the more they’ll want to practice to get better, and so on. It’s a loop that feeds into itself. You can help team members break the traditional learning loop by offering hands-on training and opportunities for them to learn by doing the work themselves. 

Overconfidence

While success positively correlates with confidence as much as it does competence, it’s important to consider “overconfidence”. Be wary of resistance to learning with people who are overconfident in their abilities. When someone overtly thinks they are an expert on a subject, they are less likely to welcome in new information: “I know everything there is to know; I’m an expert.” This mindset can actually lead to a decrease in performance. If individuals are blocking themselves from practicing and learning, they are not getting the essential learning-by-doing experience they need to continue growing. Someone may talk the talk, but can they walk the walk? Again, the only way to improve your skillset is to practice using it; do what you know to continue learning instead of just talking about what you know.

Now, overconfidence can also be beneficial if combined with humility and practice. When someone overestimates their abilities, is humble about it, and continues to practice their skill set, they are more likely to believe in themselves and therefore execute well. In this way, their overconfidence lays the way for them to continue learning because they feel that they are already competent to do so. Fear or lack of confidence does not stand in their way.  Their belief in themselves positively correlates with their willingness and capability to learn. 

Put on the training wheels, then take them off

So you’ve invested in your team to show them you have confidence in them, you’ve created a psychologically safe environment for them to grow in, and you’ve provided them with the support and tools they need to learn by doing. Now what? It’s important to keep the “training wheels” on–or offer the support team members need–until they feel they can roll without them. However, there is a delicate balance between offering support and holding peoples’ hands to a fault; there is an element of assistance as well as an element of “set them free”. Remember, the best way to learn is by doing. Offer necessary support along the way but leave room for people to try and fail. 

Get the most out of your team members (and yourself!) by intentionally fostering confidence and exercising your skills as often as you can. 

Practice Makes Competent

We offer an array of resources and opportunities for professionals (of all levels) to practice their skills and grow more confidence in them.

Community/Groups

  • Weekly Facilitation Lab: a safe and experimental space for facilitators to learn, network, and evolve.
  • Control the Room community: share experiences and learn from/with peers in the facilitation community. 

Resources

Online Courses:

Live Workshops

  • Events calendar: join us for live training workshops and facilitation conferences.