Part 1- Why trust?
Build trust. In you, your team, your organisation.
In the past decades, the drive for performance and economic gain have ruled our thinking and acting. It is now time for a more integrated view and healthy relationship with ourselves, each other and the world around us. This starts by creating fertile ground for growth and renewal: a foundation of trust.
I am convinced that individuals as well as companies are not only more sustainable, but also more successful, if they operate from a basis of trust and collaboration. By sharing these articles, I hope to inspire leaders and their teams to courageously take this journey.
Part 1 introduces why trust is essential and gives you a definition. In part 2 digs deeper into the elements of trust and presents the Jane barometer of Trust as a diagnostic instrument. Part 3 explains what it takes to transform and thrive on trust.
From a place of gratitude to all the coaches and clients who have worked with me over the years, I wish you inspirational and insightful reading,
Working based on trust enables an organization to get the best results from all people, and hence be the best it can be for its customers. People feel committed, responsible, and appreciated. Everyone matters. This is an environment where people work on sustainable growth and improvement in a healthy manner and with pride.
Basically, we all know this is how it works. And yet, in practice, it always turns out to be difficult to create or maintain a culture of trust, especially when the organization chases ambitious targets. In environments of high growth and professionalization, trust can become synonymous with a traditional, paternalistic organizational culture where deals are done underhandedly, or issues swept under the carpet.
This is a mistake. Trust is very much alive and a much broader concept. Trust is not about leaving things unnamed and is in no way a product of the past, quite the contrary! It is about creating a foundation of openness and team spirit, so that everyone feels included, confident to speak their mind and dares to be vulnerable. It also entails competency in the job, and accountability at every level.
In today’s age of high intensity and volatility, agility is crucial. In continuously changing circumstances, being able to fall back on the team and its core competencies and to operate from that basis is therefore key. Falling back on each other and each other’s skills are fundamental aspects of trust. Trust needs to be present in every enterprise, from a start-up to major professional and multinational corporations.
To fully grasp the link between trust and results, one must take a closer look at the different elements of trust. We need to gain insight into what can be done to build and maintain trust, while working toward ambitious ‘hard’ objectives.
In short, being consciousness of oneself, open to each other and commitment and skill to getting the job done together form the spirit needed to be able to achieve results and deal with today’s challenges decisively and innovatively.
What is trust?
To be able to steer people toward trust, one first needs an understanding of what we mean by trust. When asked, people will come up with numerous definitions and associations. Trust is, for example, associated with being as good as your word, having a sense of security and skill, daring to speak up, letting go, honesty, authenticity, and solidarity. It is an emotion, a belief, confirmed by behavior. And then there is a distinction between trust in yourself and mutual trust between people. How are these two kinds of trust related to each other? Trust is a wide-ranging subject, one that never fails to create a stir.
For the purposes of this article – which is intended for leaders of organizations – the subject to trust is debated within the confines of a team, starting with the leadership team. We have chosen this demarcation because we consider organizational culture a mere reflection of the behaviors shown in the leadership team. And thus, it is our belief that transformation within the leadership team is the first and an essential step towards transformation of the organization.
Based on desk research, experience, and conversations with leaders in organizations, we come to the following definition:
Trust on teams = is a subjective judgment of the security of the situation and fellow team members that leads to a positive basic attitude and the ability to make choices, share information, and achieve goals together.
In our definition, subjective judgment means that every person is capable to assess the level of trust towards another person or in a team. We can all make such an assessment and even grade our level of trust. To what degree do I trust these people or the situation on scale of 1 to 10? This grading (assessing intention or feeling) is one of the intuitive wisdoms of human beings. It is in no way related to reason: we purely base our assessment whether a situation or person is safe or dangerous on our intuition.
When we ask people on a team to grade the level of mutual trust on the team, we get, surprisingly similar grades. Evidently, people’s ability to assess trust is a generic one. And yet, it is also subjective and purely individual.
Positive basic attitude refers to the positive basis underlying people’s ability to work together. People will judge this basis as positive, and therefore experience trust, when feelings (emotions), behavior, and language (what’s said) are aligned.
In individuals, we speak about congruence: knowing yourself, what you want and what you can do, and behaving and communicating accordingly. Congruence feels genuine and instantly inspires trust. When a team as a whole reaches this state, a positive spiral will ensue, enabling every single team member to feel secure and appreciated. The team will then be able to achieve more than each of its members separately.
The leadership team mirrors into the rest of the organization. Therefore, a positive basic attitude in an organization will exist only when it is exhibited in communication and conduct by the leadership team. For leaders, this is the biggest challenge: to achieve an understanding of oneself and each other and translate this deep level understanding into shared values and direction for the team and organization, and subsequently act on it. To choose the positive basic attitude of trust ultimately means that transformation in the organization starts with each of the leaders personally. This is confirmed among others in an article by McKinsey titled Change leader, change thyself.
Our definition also refers to security. Security is important to people, as growth and innovation will materialize only in a secure environment. When we feel safe and secure, we dare to take risk, make mistakes, and practice. When persons and the situation are judged unsafe, our basic attitude will be a negative one based on mistrust, triggering a reflex of putting up defenses or withdrawal. Anyone will recognize this: sometimes we are open, truly ourselves, and in a state of flow. On other occasions, we hit the brakes and adopt a wait-and-see attitude.
It is anchored in our definition that a positive basic attitude of trust is a prerequisite to real choices. Only when a person is in that optimum state of feeling secure and trusted will they be able to get the best out of themselves and dare to rely on a deeper knowing.
In these times of turbulence, continuous change, and constant emerging technology, the team that can get the best out of itself and each of its members is the team that wins. This is the team that makes the right choices quickly, focuses its energy on things that matter, without wasting time. All we have are our individual resources and combined potential. When the leaders set the tone, their behavior will ‘catch on’ across the entire organization and create a ripple effect.