Think of your favorite TV show. Be it drama, comedy, reality, or even the news, almost all plot lines are based in general mistrust. Without mistrust, there is rarely any conflict and without conflict, there is no reason to keep our eyes glued to the screen. Walter White lies in basically every single episode of Breaking Bad, eventually losing the trust of everyone he loves. In Game of Thrones nearly every character plots on how to destroy the rest of the characters and obtain ultimate power.
Though mistrust, plotting, and scheming make for great drama and entertainment, they are the great toxicity that plagues the modern workplace. Too many people in the workforce believe there is an elusive Iron Throne of business to sit on and will stop at nothing to sit on it. In reality, there should be one team with one purpose.
Trust is hard to come by but is a necessity in business. Trust is the single most powerful tool any company can leverage, yet more often than not, few, if any, do. And just like the metaphorical chain, if one link is weak, the chain is useless.
If your company is failing to grow, in all likelihood the problem is mistrust on one of three levels — within a team, within the company structure, or with clients.
I can already hear the naysayers suggesting that there is so much more to a successful company than trust. Revenue, overhead costs, or an employee’s worth ethic. But consider how trust plays into these concepts.
For example, a person with good worth ethic is a person you can trust. At the team level, a manager must be able to trust that their team is working hard. In turn, the team must trust the manager to lead and instruct them on how to improve and be more efficient. This is paramount. Some managers will see an error, and not wanting to appear strict, will ignore the bad behavior. Even worse they may want an excuse to fire the person and let them struggle. A trusting leader expunges ineffective behavior quickly and painlessly.
Autonomy is perhaps the best way to know if a team has trust. The manager provides a task for the team member to perform along with a deadline. There should be no need for the manager to manage any more than that. If the team member has questions regarding the task, it is their responsibility to show their confidence in the manager and ask for assistance. There should never be missed deadlines without sufficient notification. If there is an issue during the process this should be brought to the manager’s attention immediately. Too many team members wait until it is too late to report a problem, and in the process cause huge setbacks including the loss of trust.
Managers need to foster an environment of care. A recent survey by Edelman's Trust Barometer showed that 82% of employees don't trust the person they work for. Managers need to show their team members that no matter what they will have their backs, as long as the teams likewise have the managers’ backs. In doing so they create a symbiotic relationship where they become one team with one purpose. A manager is someone to be respected and not feared. Regular check-ins to get a pulse on how each team member is performing and feeling will create a stronger and lasting relationship beyond work.
The Company Structure
In my 13 years as an employee in various industries, there has been no stronger detriment to a company than lack of trust between different departments. It may sound crazy, but the truth is that many people would rather watch the company burn to the ground than take the blame or collaborate effectively with others.
A common complaint I hear from colleagues from outside my own organization is that pettiness is king. Departments will intentionally pass the buck or forget to execute something just to make a “rival” department look foolish. Unfortunately, when slinging mud, everyone gets dirty.
From passive-aggressive emails to blocking communication with other departments, many organizations are failing because no one trusts anyone outside of their in-group. This is completely natural for human beings to protect the ingroup and fight the outgroup. However, within an organization it is important to remember, you are all really part of the same group.
Let me share an example: A certain business (it doesn’t really matter which one) became embroiled in a fight between an account team and project management team. The two departments had grown to hate each other so much, that if the account team tried to communicate with the creative department, the project management team would fold their arms and sit on projects that needed to be delivered, essentially saying, “If you want to skip the proper chain of command, figure out how to do all of these things on your own.”
Sounds petty, doesn’t it?
All of these problems stem from a mistrust in one another. In the above example, this mistrust led to increased employee churn (infighting was not part of the job description). Unfortunately, when two departments can’t get along with one another, it’s the work that ends up suffering. Employee happiness is 23.3% more correlated to connections with co-workers than direct supervisors. If departments can't get along this will make the entire organization look bad and often leads to lost clients and revenue.
Client trust is a different beast. When clients choose to stop doing business with an organization, there are a number of possible culprits. There could be ruined relationships from past employees (hence why hiring employees you can trust is so important). There could be a difficult hierarchy of multiple contacts to build trust with. Or, it could be that the organization itself has a toxic work environment.
Clients that trust you are more likely to stay with you. Even if you aren’t delivering the exact results they are looking for, they trust that the effort is there and thus they stick with you. This isn’t to say make sure the client likes you and slack off. On the contrary, it will be the sacrifice and effort that you make that gives you the occasional bit of breathing room on a project. As long as you don’t abuse this trust, the client, in general, won’t leave.
Many people use activities or lunches to encourage trust. Although these are beneficial tools for relationship building, they should never be the sole proprietor of trust between you and your client. Hard work and open communication will often be the champions of trust needed to sustain a lasting relationship. Like any relationship, the more you grow to know and understand each other, the better the bond will be.
While it may seem vital to identify and root out mistrust in your organization, don’t be to quick to point the finger at someone else. That is the opposite of trust. Instead, take a look at yourself. See what you are doing wrong and fix it. If you have trust issues with a team member or a member of a different team, talk about it and resolve it (preferably in private instead of on an email chain with the entire company CC’ed).
Whatever you do, don’t just leave it and hope for the best. Few things are ever resolved by simply ignoring them. Don’t let animosity fester and destroy you or your company’s reputation. It is lazy and quite honestly even more time consuming to ignore it. The less trust you have the more time you will spend talking or thinking ill of a given person, which takes away from your productivity.
It is easy to identify these problems considering almost every organization has trust issues of some type. The simple solution is hiring the right people, and in being honest with yourself about whether your current job is a good fit for you.
The book “Good to Great” by James C. Collins suggests a simple test to help you get started: As an employer, would you be relieved if the employee came to you and asked to leave? As an employee would you be relieved if your employer came to you and terminated you? If the answer is yes, it is time to pull the bandaid off now. (57)
Get Out or Change
There is no point in staying in a situation where one or both parties are miserable. No one wins. The employee, manager, or employer will always be resentful and the business will suffer. It will become a culture of seeking recognition when things are great and placing blame when things are bad. In a trusting environment, there is no concern for when or if recognition will come, team members demonstrate honest ownerships, and problems are handled collectively because everyone knows that each person is on the same team.
The basic point of this article can be summarized in the words, “Day-to-day we are a business. Long term we are a family.” Families fight. Families struggle. Families thrive. There is no greater thing a company can accomplish than ending on great terms with employees that leave. If past employees look back with fondness on their time with your company, you are doing something right. I love what I do because of who I do it with, and without trust that would not be possible.