It’s a very difficult environment in which to establish and foster trust. That’s a problem because trust is one of the most important factors for building high performing teams. Trust supports open and effective communication, it makes you comfortable with higher levels of conflict, and both communication and conflict underpin high quality decision making. As Stephen M.R. Covey explains in his book The Speed of Trust, by improving communication, conflict, and decision making, trust helps you move faster.
Today, I’m going to paint a bleak picture of the state of trust in our organizations.
Your Organization and Its Leaders
Think about the average employee’s experience of your workplace. For one thing, the world keeps changing and your leaders try to evolve your company along with it. A former customer has become a competitor and the term “frenemy” is now commonplace in meetings. You used to be the dominant player in your industry but you’ve slipped into a trailing position and are desperately trying to catch up. You rode the lofty days of high profits and big bonuses but this is your third straight year of reorganizations and cost cutting.
This evolution is a business necessity, but if you’re an average employee, the link between these external changes (markets, competitors, consumers, regulators) and how you do your job on a daily basis is unclear. The result is a perceived loss of control. Things aren’t predictable anymore, and predictability is key to trust. So just at the moment when you need your team to go fast, the blow to your trust and confidence in the system causes you to grind to a halt.
Now just because the average employee is feeling less trust in your organization, it doesn’t mean that’s the only hope. The manager has always been an important connection point for employees. A strong relationship with your manager can give you stability. Now think of the challenge for the average manager: they are learning about and reacting to organizational changes with about three nanoseconds’ head start on their employees. While sorting through and coping with their own issues, they are asked to stand in front of your team and make a compelling case for the change. Subtle (and not so subtle) cues will give away the manager’s concerns.
So while your manager puts on a brave face and tows the company line, you’re actually getting more nervous about what’s real and who you can trust. Beyond that, the challenging business environment and a greater emphasis on accountability is probably adding an edge to what used to be a strong and nurturing relationship with your boss. It’s not a stretch to imagine that you hardly recognize your formerly supportive coach and mentor boss in the new harried, metric-driven, driver you now encounter.
Is all hope lost? Have we completely severed the ties that used to provide comfort and predictability for people? What about your team; are you feeling connected to and confident in your team? If you’re the average employee, maybe not. First, the overwhelming workload is affecting the pace of work, which is in turn affecting the downtime you have to interact casually. Do you shorten your lunches and breaks and just wolf down your food and get back to the task at hand? What about after work opportunities? Do you have a long commute or family demands that cause you to leave before the team goes for a drink or plays in the company baseball league?
On the job, the combination of strong pressure to perform with greater interdependence and shared accountability is also straining relationships. Most people don’t have the mindset or the skills to deal with this high pressure, interdependent working style. In the absence of candid communication, effective feedback, and productive conflict, issues go underground, you grit your teeth and carry on…but trust is a casualty.
Is it really as bleak as this? Probably not for most people and hopefully not for you. But it’s an important reminder that there is a high cost to our new business environment. Continuous change means you have very little that is solid to hold on to. If you can’t trust in your teammates, if you can’t count on your manager, and if you have no certainty that your leaders will do the right things, who can you trust?