Trust – soft issue or true business?

Do you recognize the situation where, right after a joint meeting you find yourself conversing with a colleague finding countless problems and weaknesses with a third colleague’s proposal? Besides, the final decision was utterly stupid! Obviously you didn’t bring up these arguments during the meeting but maybe focused instead on your email and cell phone? Moreover, this meeting seemed unimaginably tedious.

Based on Edelman´s global trust barometer 2017 the general populations’ trust has declined in all four key institutions: business, government, NGOs, and media. The crisis is greatest regarding government and media but alarm bells should be ringing in business as well. The drop has been significant in recent years and only 37% of people consider CEOs to be very credible (government officials 29%) and they are subject to distrust in almost all major industrial countries. How is it possible to engage in joint activities and decisions if we do not trust supervisors, directors and each other?

Simon Sinek has stated that, “the last real competitive advantage for organizations is to have a strong culture”. This is not possible without a healthy trust throughout the organization. This inevitably has to start from the organization’s top management: the Board of Directors and management team. Over the years I have presented numerous management teams as well as other teams with a simple question: Do you trust each other? The answer is invariably the same: Yes! How else could they answer that question? Yet, private conversations often reveal unresolved conflicts with others, the defense of own territory, mistrust, suspicion of others expertise, inactive /inefficient meetings, lack of commitment to common decisions and cover-up of own mistakes and lack of knowledge.

I bet, we all are able to list how to build trust: acting transparently and with integrity, keeping our promises, showing confidence in others´ actions, giving genuine feedback in all situations, requesting and providing assistance, avoiding politics, focusing on the essentials, and showing others that I want to work with them.

In practice this is not always so easy. Building trust never takes place overnight, but during a longer period of time after various common experiences – failures and successes. So, where should one start?

1.    Know your colleagues

We are often in a hurry to reach the final results. Thus, we do not always use enough time and energy getting to know our colleagues as human beings. Once we know each other, it will take us to our goal faster and we usually reach a better outcome. The next time your team is together, use the first hour telling each other about yourself. Leading questions could be for example about:  childhood, family, hobbies, dreams, special interests, or whatever each team member can bring to the common good…

2.    Understand the impact of your own actions as well as the diversity of the persons 

Each of us is our own personality and individual with weaknesses, strengths and vulnerabilities. Each of us is different and thus will also react differently in different situations.

3.    Avoid solidarity humming

In today’s society it is “politically correct” to leave the thought unsaid or not to intervene if there is a risk that it infringes on another person’s thoughts or is someone else’s responsibility. By doing this, we help to create an artificial harmony and a sense of trust in the organization. We should understand that by understating or hiding problems, by not saying our opinions where it matters and the avoidance of conflicts destroy confidence in the group just as much as the inappropriate and aggressive behavior or over-dramatizing things! Individual, group and organizational development requires the courage to question each other and our conclusions (healthy conflict), openly exchange views, as well as being accountable to one another. These do not occur if we don’t know each other, defend our own turf, or try to cover up our own mistakes and lack of knowledge. These things will inevitably lead to the non-alignment, back-channeling and scuppering of trust and results.

Issues relating to trust and an organization’s culture are too often considered to be “soft” values. However, I dare to argue that these are the “the very core” of business. If even one person in an organization breaches trust without being addressed, it will in long-term cause an epidemic, which eventually destroys the trust in the entire organization. This in turn destroys the organization’s productivity and ability to achieve results. The higher in an organization that we allow the violation of trust, the faster it will destroy the entire organization. As Gary Hamel says: 

“Organizational culture eats strategy for breakfast!” 

Pekko Nieminen

Some book recommendations:

Patrick Lencioni: Five dysfunctions of a team and Getting Naked 
Simon Sinek: Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

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