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 http://www.merriam-webster.com 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 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:
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.
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:
2. Badly drawn organizational structures – that don’t have enough clarity of line of command or role boundaries
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.
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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