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July 18, 2010
Do You Trust Your Friends?
Image via Wikipedia

Trust. A small word with large consequences, to any relationship. As I started writing this blogpost, I began by wondering how the English dictionary describes the word. I couldn’t remember looking it up during my student days. And in case you have a similar experience. Here you go-

1 a : assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something b : one in which confidence is placed

This is the noun form of the word. I got it from which is where I do all my word searches. Having got this far, I began to ponder on the nature of trust. And the first word that came to mind was Fragile. Trust is fragile. Much easier broken than built. Extremely hard to rebuild. There really is no adhesive effective enough!

Trust No One
Image via Wikipedia

Trust in the Workplace: The last few weeks my attention has repeatedly been drawn to the issue of Trust in the workplace.

And I have realized that it can be a very destructive thing. This trust-gap.

I have marveled at how often there is mistrust between departments.  It happens between very senior peers in an organization and causes a great deal of damage and stress. And yet, few senior executives will go out of their way to address/resolve such a situation in their teams.

My other realization was that Trust is not between roles or designations, it is between 2 people. Trust is a human emotion and affects people. Not roles. So when people tell me “Oh there are always going to be trust issues between Sales and Manufacturing”, I tend to disagree. A Sales head and Manufacturing head who can build inter-personal trust can overcome this. However, like I said before. They don’t. We don’t.

So how do you re-establish trust in the workplace? It’s not really as difficult as it feels, at the outset.

Throw your mind back to your college days. When some of the members of your college group had a falling out or stopped speaking to each other. What process was usually followed? There were usually 3 approaches:

The Trusted Advisor
Image by AnthonyCrawford via Flickr

1. Trusted Advisor/Mutual Friend – This is where a third party, who has been observing this issue, decides to take a stance. This person will usually speak to each one of the “warring parties” either singly or together and will usually enable rapprochement. It is vital that this person is trusted by both parties. Otherwise chances of success are slim. This very same approach works in the workplace. Usually followed by a trip to a bar! Human solutions to human issues! The other variant of this approach is the Gang Bang, where instead of one person speaking, the whole gang of friends get ahold of these two and talk collective sense into them. Insisting on a ritualistic hug at the end :o)

2. Authority – When the above approach fails, typically some friend would reach out to a parent or teacher/counsellor and ask them to get involved. This is not the best approach, since in instances the two parties will resolve because of the pressure of an authority figure. However, in many instances, the forced engagement does lead to rapprochement.

3. Time: This approach is adopted when both the above have failed. Then you decide to leave it to time. Which does work more often than not. However, this is also an acknowledgement of the fact that sometimes such trust gaps just cannot be resolved.

NOT MY PHOTO Salvador-Dali-Montre-Molle-au-Moment
Image by La Marga via Flickr

I would like to clarify that through all this, I am not referring to trust gaps caused by a breach of integrity, those are indeed near impossible to fix.

Most organizational trust gaps are caused by:

1. Misunderstanding

2. Badly drawn organizational structures – that don’t have enough clarity of line of command or role boundaries

Image via Wikipedia

3. Unclear Leadership – When leaders will indiscriminately issue instructions or allocate work without due attention to who should do what

4. Culture – In a highly political culture, where there is a lot of covert conversation, where rumours thrive and there is a constant presence of fear

5. Goal setting – ineffectively set goals across inter-dependent departments/divisions, that (without intending to) create conflict

6. Reward and Recognition systems – sometimes leadership will decide to “Create Competition” among the troops. Not realizing that they are creating rifts and fissures

7. And finally, but most damaging, trust gaps are caused and sometimes even fostered, by those wrong ‘uns. Those insecure, game-playing, untruthful people. Who will do “whatever it takes” to stay ahead or protect their interests. There aren’t too many of them around, but even one, has the potential to cause havoc. With people like this, try to counsel and/or correct. When it fails, you terminate.

Image by sabeth718 via Flickr

Cannot try to be patient with such types of individuals. Their very presence is damaging to the team and organization in general. Thank you, Dorothy for this one!

When occurrences of such trust gaps are high, collaboration across peers is low, a thorough examination of the above is in order and the HR/OD professional or a leader would do well to self-examine some truths that s/he believes in and might be causing these complications.

Trust gaps in the workplace can destroy an organization by taking focus away from the outside world, to the inside world. They take away organization energy, by taking focus away from the customer, to the self. Much like a sick body is so drained by the fight within, that it is unable to compete without.

They reduce competitive advantage by slowing down decision making. Decisions made in silos, without involving key stakeholders run the risk of being ineffective. Such situations present a divided front to the rest of the organization and affect the followership.

Organizations have to pay attention that they have processes that enable and don’t disable trust – distances, communication costs, travel for face time are all key areas that need to be looked at.

The organizational benefits of trust – faster decisions, collaboration, projects complete on time and plan, less leadership bandwidth deployed on managing conflict – are all clear indicators that Leaders should pay attention to these indicators of organization culture and health.

CEOs -are you listening?

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2013 4:52 pm

    An excellent blog, yet again. I agree that trust can be easily termed as one of the most important pillars of organizational effectiveness. However, to my mind, there is an even more crucial aspect to work-relationships – authenticity. Being trustworthy and being authentic are often confused as the same attribute. It isn’t so, in my opinion; they are two distinct behavioural attributes that impact anyone’s leadership quotient.

    While everyone loves the idea of a ‘trustworthy’ leader – both leaders and followers share equal appeal for it, very few appreciate the need of genuine leadership traits – ones that begin foremost from every leader knowing and acting ‘true self’, reflecting one’s true personality and thought process in everyday actions. What organizations need and what followers look for are authentic leaders who are themselves aware of who they are, what is their vision for the organization and how to make followers relate to them so as to help them transform their vision a reality.

  2. sushma permalink
    July 20, 2010 6:37 pm

    Trust for me is the foundation of anything . In shekhar ek jeevani the protagonist says if people dont trust me then whats the point of living ? Major work I do in organizations is trust building . without trust there is polarity and fragmentation. The base of power is alos trust . Love sush

    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      July 20, 2010 6:52 pm

      The base of power is trust. Awesome!

      • dalreen permalink
        July 22, 2011 2:22 pm

        the base of love is Trust..

  3. July 20, 2010 12:55 pm

    Too much of any thing is bad. Some mistrust does help in creating probing managers,system oriented company. So one cant really expect a company to be one large loving family . One needs to deal with it and channelise appropriately to create a competitive, but not dysfunctionally competitive workplace.

    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      July 20, 2010 3:10 pm

      I understand what you mean, but I would differ that that has little to with trust. When you discuss something with a Quality Professional, one of their first responses is “Show me” it doesn’t mean the don’t trust you, it just means that they have been trained to verify/validate.

      I’m actually talking about the negative/harmful mistrust in an organization, and definitely not making a case for Group-think!

  4. July 20, 2010 12:02 pm

    HI Gurprriet

    I would like to add one more factor to your list of causes of trust gaps.

    Behavioral Styles: In terms of decision making ,delegation and communication styles of two different personalities

    Taking forward the classic Marketing and production trust gap: For a production manager the ideal styles expected by his role are to make cautious and well researched decions supported by sufficient facts ,figures ,numbers data. while a marketing manager is more interested in closing the deal and obviously would like to focus more on getting business first.

    Both are assertive as each values business requirement but with different perspectives.

    Production communicates factually and marketing talks big picture.

    Production tries to control – systems ,processes, quality and thus ends up closely following up while marketing would always prefer to freely delegate details and keep moving to next deals.

    I strongly feel the gap is mostly because of lack of communication which takes the form of mistrust as it grows.

    In organization context , as you rightly put badly drawn organization structure are a cause of mistrust because those boxes are filled in by human beings who have their own styles which influences the other boxes and in turn the whole organization.

    The leader here can do few things like:
    – design the orgn structure in such a way ,where people appreciate each other s managerial and leadership style.

    – Create a communication channel which is focused on building trust amongst the departments.

    Would love to hear from you .


    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      July 25, 2010 1:24 am

      Good points Bharati.. Styles differences can lead to misunderstanding and from there to conflict/mistrust.

      And you picked one I missed – Communication! Absence of which, can just take things down the wrong path! Thank you for that one!

  5. July 20, 2010 12:49 am

    Very interesting info on workplace mistrust. Have you considered submitting to various organizations and possibly line up a consulting gig from it?

    Everyone knows that time is money, and I imagine many supervisors/upper-management folks are not as educated as they could be re: bottom line of businness.

    Great job!

    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      July 20, 2010 11:52 am

      Most senior executives are quite clued into Bottomline etc. However they’re unaware about the impact of the “soft stuff” on “hard” business numbers. Once they get it, they move, because profit is religion!

      Thanks for taking the time to drop by, read and comment!

  6. July 19, 2010 2:07 pm

    Hi Gurprriet – I’m honoured that you would amend your post to incorporate my point.

    I have recently been astonished by the tolerance of dishonest or even abusive behaviour in organisations and suspect it’s much more widely spread than we would like to believe. Integrity as you say is key to trust.

    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      July 19, 2010 2:28 pm

      I agree, Dorothy, I see a lot of the same. People who deliver on the numbers are forgiven virtually every bad behaviour (even using work resources for personal use). This makes them believe they are indispensable and makes them worse.

      The collateral damage caused by such individuals to the rest of the team is significant, and yet gets overlooked.

      This is where I think Leaders need to play a role. However, any leader who himself mirrors such behaviours will only condone it. And insecure leaders will want to hold on to these stars, who essentially make the leadership look good.

      This is where I think the ball then passes to the Board, who must exercise their governance/counselling power on the leadership team.

      As business becomes more complex and competitive pressures increase, I am seeing a huge compromise on integrity.

      Thank you for your input, it made the post complete, and that is very valuable indeed!

  7. July 19, 2010 1:54 am

    Hi Gurprriet – great reminder of one of the basic elements of any functioning relationship – not just in the workplace. Trust! Without it all human and business interaction is negatively impacted. When trust is doubted, contigency plans are usually in place to protect some or all of the players. Instincts and communication becomes blurred. Full and open cooperation is limited.

    You have very kindly left out one category of individual who are untrustworthy not because the system in which they operate might be flawed, but because they fail to deliver,are unreliable or even dishonest.These people need to be weeded out in any organisation. CEOs could take note of that too, when they create their organisational values!

    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      July 19, 2010 11:37 am


      I am so honored to have you leave a comment on my blog, it’s the first!

      And yes, I did leave out that category, and now that you have brought it to my notice, I shall make the appropriate amendment, since that is an important point. I do believe in a zero tolerance for integrity breaches and any such action must have only one response!

  8. July 19, 2010 12:32 am

    Nice Gurprriet,
    I think one of the important aspects is power hungry leaders also cause the trust gap.
    When leaders start focusing on building own favored team or suppress good people for just building environment suitable for oneself without caring for organization growth and interest, causes trust gap.

    All trust gaps can be closed by collaboration , clearcut information, making organization more open , transparent and also making innovative platform ready.

    Abhay Karhade
    CIO & Director IT,
    SVKM Group.

    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      July 19, 2010 11:39 am

      Thanks for dropping by and the very valid comment, Abhay. Such leaders have the potential to cause the maximum damage to trust!


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