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Swim out of Infested Waters and into a Trusting Culture

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

You might be working in a fear-based culture if you’ve ever come up with a strategy to avoid blame; if you’ve ever spent time meeting with people before a meeting to ensure their support; or if you’ve ever chosen not to support an outlandish but promising idea. The hard thing about fear-based organizations is that no one wants to operate out of fear, but if you let go you may get eaten alive by your fear-based coworkers.

How do you stop that vicious cycle of fear and move to a trust-based culture?

Trust initiatives don’t work. Crap, that explains it. I read something the other day that said: “trust initiatives further degrade trust by putting focus on the problem instead of new possibilities.” Last year I helped deliver a popular trust training program. It was a disaster. We started by giving them a survey and showing them how low the trust was in their organization. The focus then became, “how can I make my people trust each other” and “can we write a computer program to enforce trust?” They totally missed the point about trusting each other. No one got real. No relationships were built.

Make the vicious cycle transparent. The book Presence recounts the story of a company created by a system diagram using causal loops, that actually showed in living color that they were each causing the others rework, and blaming each other in a giant vicious cycle. Once they saw it diagrammed, the participants just looked at each other and said: “look at what we’re doing to ourselves!”

Everyone plays a role. When everyone sees that they have a role in creating fear, a shift happens that unlocks the culture of fear. In the example above, the team realized that they all played a role and then took responsibility for changing the culture they were creating.

Plant Seeds, not Weeds. I heard this from Sally Elatta the other day, and I love it. The idea is that you spread positive gossip, not negative. If you tell me that Bob only cares about data, then when I talk to Bob I’m going see him through a biased lens and will notice everytime he mentions data. If you instead told me that Bob is great with data, then I would go in expecting him to be a genius!

But it’s not just about people, it’s about ideas too, like your company’s strategy. I’ve had issues supporting a strategy that I disagree with. But the idea is that if you go around disparaging the strategy, then you’re playing a role in its failure, you are planting weeds. If you plant seeds, then perhaps you can steer it in a better direction.

Connection, Connection, Connection. If I haven’t said it enough in this blogtoon - the secret is connection. You need to connect with each other as humans. There’s no process that’s going to save you. You need to build intimacy and develop deep caring about each other. Then you will trust each other. The way to do that is by spending time knowing one another. There’s no other way.

Have you developed trust with someone that you didn’t expect to? How did it happen?

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