„What is trust? “ Most people, including most CEOs, would struggle to give a concrete answer to that question. Asking the same people: “do you need trust in an organization?” they would say “yes, trust is fundamental!” So we have this strange ambiguity that on the one hand, CEOs and other people would unanimous confirm that trust is essential, yet being unable to define in a concrete way what they mean with trust. In other words: they know that they need it, but do not really know what exactly it is that they need. This makes it difficult to specifically or purposefully create or strengthen trust within an organization.
In this article I will briefly write about:
High trust levels in organizations have a series of positive side-effects. Below is a list of some of these aspects, as according to a number of authors (e.g. D. Trickey (2006); S. Covey (2006)). According to them, there is well-researched evidence that high trust-levels lead to:
- Improvement in cooperation and collaboration in business
- Cost- and time-saving (no need for controlling)
- Increased productivity
- Enhanced knowledge transfer
- More innovation
- Support for change-projects
- Lower level of turnover / increased loyalty
- Improved communication
- Increased flexibility
- People can access their positive energies
- … to be continued
In Teal Organizations, trust is a basic assumption and prerequisiteto almost all Teal practices. Self-management without trust would just not work. Wholeness without trust would be unthinkable, and to follow what we listened about the evolutionary purpose again needs trust. So regarding Teal-organizations you could say that the benefit of trust lies in making Teal-practices possible. Trust is a pre-condition for the journey to Teal. At the same time, Teal-practices are very helpful at creating and maintaining trust. But first we need to get the virtuous Teal-trust-circle started. If we pick up again the introducing question: “what is trust?” what exactly is it that we need to establish Teal-practices? We will find that the kind of trust we need for successful self-management is not quite the same as the trust we need to establish wholeness-practices or to listen and follow the evolutionary purpose (see below for more details).
How can we define trust? Looking into literature, there are at least as many different definitions of trust as there are authors writing about the topic. Here is one example:
“Trust is my choice to believe others will act positively in my interests, when I know they can also hurt me – it’s about choosing to be vulnerable with others.” (David Trickey)
But when we think about how to establish or enhance trust within an organization, these definitions do not really help us. What we need is a description or concept of trust which allows us to talk about trust in a more differentiated and specific way, and we need a way to evaluate the existing trust-level and to identify possible trust-gaps within our organization to know more specifically what we need to work on. Again, a number of authors have come up with varying numbers of aspects or factors of trust. The following list (again partly derived from D. Trickey and S. Covey) is just a start and needs to be completed by other trust enthusiasts:
- Integrity – trust based on the experience that people say what they think and to do what they say.
- Humility – people are concerned about what is right than about being right, about acting on good ideas than about having the ideas, about recognizing than being recognized.
- Clarity – trust based on a clear understanding of each other’s roles and a common vision of the organization’s intention.
- Courage – the ability to do the right thing, even when it may be difficult. Trust is the decision to give up control.
- Transparency / Openness with information – information is shared within the organization in a clear and understandable way. Members are being generous and responsive with knowledge and ideas
- Compatibility in values – trust based on the conviction and experience that the values other people hold within the organization are not identical, but in harmony with one’s own values.
- Competence – trust based on the perception that team members can be relied upon to produce quality-work because they own the necessary knowledge, experience and skills.
- Community /Inclusion – trust based on feeling of belonging and the experience that people include you in their decisions, share success and have fun together.
- Secure space – trust based on the belief that team members can speak their truth and commit mistakes without fear of blame.
- Faith – trust within me. Trust in abundance and in a positive future.
- … to be continued
Talking about these indicators gives the fuzzy concept of trust a concrete language which facilitates communication about trust within an organization. Once we communicate about trust with these concrete indicators, it becomes easier to identify specific trust-gaps, that is to say specific indicators, where the currently existing trust-level does not meet the desired level of trust on that indicator. And after identifying the most critical trust-gaps in our organization, we can search for concrete actions to improve trust on that indicator.
Using the specific language of trust referring to the indicators described above allows us to define concrete actions to take to enhance trust within our organization. Below you can find a list showing some examples of possible actions or practices linked to some of these indicators. And again: this list is just a start and needs to be completed with time.
- Integrity – this aspect is a very personal one. If someone feels difficulties articulating what he thinks or acting according to his words, he needs to work on it personally. As an organization, I could support him in this journey offering e.g. free personal coaching sessions, meditation or sabbaticals, giving people the possibility to work on their integrity.
- Humility – we all own humility – it just sometimes gets overrun by our ego. In Meetings, a commonly agreed sign may be used to remind us of coming back to our humility when our ego wants to dominate.
- Clarity – a team-workshop designated to clarifying roles and intention can lead to more clarity for everyone involved.
- Transparency / Openness with information – establishing forums, platforms and clearly defined processes of knowledge sharing, information flow and exchange can be a supportive structure for living openness with information.
- Competence – if there is a lack in competence, further education /training on the job may help. To improve the knowledge and trust in the colleague’s competence, regular job-rotations may be a way.
- Community / Inclusion – Team-events and jointly celebrating success may enhance the feeling of belonging
- Secure space – getting to know each other on a deeper level helps to establish this secure place. Different forms of story-telling can help to create this deeper knowledge of each other.
- … to be continued
- Meetings and Humility: At Heiligenfeld, a mental health hospital in Germany, each meeting one person has the task to take possession of a pair of two small hand cymbals and ring them whenever the person feels that ground rules are not being respected, or that the meeting is serving ego more than purpose. The rule is that no one can speak until the last sound of the cymbals has died out. During the silence, participants are to reflect on the question: “am I in service to the topic we are discussing and to the organization?” – thus helping them to centre again on their humility.
- Story-telling: Ozvision, a Japanese Internet Company has two interesting practices involving story telling. Every morning, people get together in their teams for a quick meeting called “good or new”, in which everybody is invited to share a story on something good or something new that has happened to him, work-related or not. The second practice of storytelling aims to foster a spirit of gratitude in the organization. Each employee can take an extra day off each year, called a “day of thinking”. The employee receives 200 USD in cash from company funds that she can spend in any way she wants to thank someone special during that day. The only rule is that once she returns to work, she must share the story of what she gave and to whom and how the gift was received.
- Free coaching sessions: RHD, a non-profit organization in human services in the United States, offers up to 10 free coaching sessions per year to all its employees.
(All examples are taken from F. Laloux, 2014)
When we connect trust with the 3 breakthroughs of Teal-organizations, we can see that each of them requires different aspects of trust. To successfully live self-management within an organization, the trust aspects of competence, openness with information, clarity and integrity may be the most essential ones. When it comes to wholeness, the aspects of secure space, humility and inclusion may seem as more important, and looking at listening to evolutionary purpose, faith and courage may seem as the most important ones.
Trust and Teal-practices are inseperable friends. They need and nurture each other, and together can create a virtuous circle with all its positive side effects as described under Point 2. You just need to get the circle started. A detailed diagnostic of the existing trust-level, identifying trust-gaps within the organization, can be of help to define concrete actions on how to increase trust. Understanding trust as a combined function of a series of indicators can help to provide a differentiated vocabulary when we talk about trust, and the examples of trust-supporting practices may be of help to… A necessary condition for all this to happen within an organization is the integrity of the CEO.
Covey, S. (2006); The Speed of Trust – The one thing that changes everything.
Laloux, F. (2014); Reinventing Organizations. – a guide to creating organizations inspired by the next stage of consciousness. Published by Nelson Parker, Brussels.
Trickey, D. (2006); A question of trust – measuring and developing trust in Teams. Published in TCO International Diversity Management.