Web 2.0 Wednesdays--Should We Keep It Up?
Change Your Behavior, Change Your Mind

It's a Matter of Trust

Trust So much of the stupid stuff we do at work is because we don't really trust the people around us. We don't trust them to do the right thing. We don't trust that they are essentially good and competent or that they want to do good work for our organization. We especially don't trust that they will do the work. That's why we have dumb systems of control in place, like measuring people's "work ethic" in terms of their willingness to sit in a cubicle for 8 hours a day. If you ask me, the people who are willing to do that aren't the people we really want working for us.

Last week I posted about my dream of a world where we'd let people's personal interests and passions be a much bigger driver in the professional development process. I keep thinking about how few of us have that option within the confines of an organization and wondering why that is. At the heart of it, I believe, is a lack of trust.

We don't trust employees. We act as though they are incapable of making "good" choices, when in reality its our fear that they won't make the choices we WANT them to make that's really the problem. Why is it that our choices, the ones we impose on the people who work for us, are somehow better than the ones they might make for themselves. Of course, maybe they don't make the choices we want them to make because of another trust issue:

We don't trust our employees with information. So many bad choices are a result of bad information or incomplete information, or information that isn't presented accurately.  Of course we can't trust people to make good decisions if we aren't going to give them the information they need to make them. Why do we insist on blaming people when we haven't done all we could to make sure they have the right information?

We don't trust the process. I'm seriously guilty of this one, constantly checking in to see if I'm making progress and if I'm not, then it must be because I'm doing something wrong.  But progress is an evolutionary thing, especially when it comes to professional development. Do we truly believe that the most worthwhile development shows immediate results? The skills that it takes to address the important issues aren't developed during a one-day training session. They are a result of months, if not years of learning and coaching and feedback. And learning that some might view as "extras" or "useless" (like Steve Jobs studying calligraphy) could, in fact, be the most powerful of all. But we'd have to trust the process to find out.

We don't trust in abundance . One of the most persistent mental models we work with is the idea that everything worthwhile is scarce. There are some things that are limited, no doubt--time, oil, episodes of Battlestar Gallactica. But under the right conditions, our potential for growth is unlimited. We just have to develop our faith to the point that we're willing to trust what it takes to create those conditions. Cubicles, meetings, measuring our worth in 8-hour increments and micro-management of learning are not what it takes.

Faith is a hard thing to maintain. Sometimes it's that our faith is being challenged. Sometimes it's that we've put our trust in the wrong things. I can't help but feel, though, that we need to explore our trust issues in more detail to see how they may be interfering with our ability to do what's right or what might work better.

What do you think? How does trust (or a lack of it) play a role in professional development? How can we deal with our trust issues?

Photo via dziner.


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Oh, boy, Michelle. I think you hit it perfectly. Trust is a huge issue - between people, between departments, between the executive office and everyone else. And everyone does operate on the scarcity principle - especially those who watch the news regularly.
A thoughtful, well-reasoned piece. How can we change this?

Kia ora Michele!

Trust is at the heart of the success of any organisation. And you're right - it is a severely limiting factor.

Trust is a subjectively measurable thing that's been discussed recently on Britt's post.

Trust can also be earned and often has to be. But I feel that the distinction between trust and trustworthiness has to be kept in mind when assessing people. Saying "I don't trust that person", is different from saying "that person is untrustworthy", for there is a litigious element in the latter that does not exist in the former. I am entitled to have distrust in someone but I'm not necessarily entitled to say that they are untrustworthy.

The culture of contractors and their work ethics has been a matter of debate for some time in western society. It is said that contractors are good at writing and following contracts - to the letter. Some of the problems that arise through this results from interpretation of contracts (or misinterpretation of contracts). But it comes down to trust - again. Do you trust that the person who does the job is going to do the job the way they say they will? That seems to be what you are on about when you spoke of working with work colleagues.

There is an old Scottish saying: "naethin' cams alane". Literally it means nothing comes by itself. Whatever it is, it brings with it other things or constraints or conditions. So it is with working with people, whether in a room or in the blogosphere.

Writing Comment Policy is subjectively to do with ethics. Adjusting the comment settings on a blog involves weighing up pros and cons to do with trust (of people) and usability (by people). When I first created my blog I hadn't thought about policy or settings. But those came with the chattels as it were.

Accepting the chattels when working with people means accepting that trust (or the lack of it) in all its manifestations, has also to be accepted.

Trust is one of the most difficult things to embrace in a new environment, whether in the workplace or in the outback. I believe that it affects us emotionally, because it is one of the powerful evolved human traits to do with fear. Do I have some fear of situations I don't trust, or of people I don't trust? You bet!

Once again, you hit the nail on the head, Michelle. Where I teach, trust, or the lack thereof, gets in the way of so much. Teachers don't trust students, so they put elaborate systems in place to prevent cheating, at the expense of students learning collaboration. Students don't trust teachers, so they grub for grades and battle for points, instead of using assessments as a point of feedback and suggestions for improvement. And, teachers and administrators don't trust each other, establishing barriers to an honest process of continual improvement.

Kia ora (again) Michele!

On a lighter note, I was thinking more about your post when I read a post by Evelyn Lim, & How-to-be-happy Lessons That Kids Can Teach Us. What caught my attention was the implicit faith that children have - Evelyn's right. "We are too encumbered by unnecessary worries. We limit ourselves by our beliefs. If things are not working in our favor, we may even choose to give up half way and ditch our dreams."

She further advocates that "Adults should learn from kids to put aside their differences and care for each other. Love creates happiness."

I reckon!

Ka kite

Thanks, everyone, for your great comments!

Roberta, in some sense it feels to me like the way to get started is simply to start trusting. If something happens along the way to make our trust go away, then we have to look at what needs to be done to restore it. I also think we have to try to create the conditions for having trust--transparency seems to me to be one of the most important things we can do to further that. If we're as transparent as possible about what we're doing and why/how we're doing it, then it seems that would create an atmosphere of greater trust.

AW--it sounds like you're working in an environment similar to where most people work. It seems to me that schools, in many ways, are worse because for whatever reason, we adults seem to have an innate distrust of young people, so anyplace where they are gathered together seems to be rampant with control mechanisms that indicate we don't trust kids to make good decisions. That's unfortunate because I personally think that helping kids to grow up is to create an environment where its safe for them to make bad decisions but where we're there to help them see their ways out of those bad decisions.

Ken--I think that Evelyn is so right that we need to follow the lead of children in many things, having faith being one of them. We've replace so many healthy beliefs from childhood with so many limiting beliefs and we call that "growing up"?!

Another place where trust in lacking is the trust that any knowledge/information/skills gained through professional development will be used for the organization that 'paid' for it. I think some employers don't trust that their employees will stick around after getting degrees, getting training, etc. Of course, denying employees this growth only drives them away in the end.

I think we could circumvent some of these trust issues if we tried to look at the bigger picture more often. For instance, even though an employee might not stick around for long after gaining a lot of new skills, it is still better to provide them with the means to do even better at changing the world (or whatever your given profession ;) than to constantly restrict them.

In this way, organizations can become 'leadership factories' by which those who have worked there are known for their skills and abilities and the organization is known as a great place to work with leadership and development opps galore.

Elisa, I couldn't agree with you more! I particularly think that this needs to be true for nonprofits, which supposedly are about doing good in the world. The more you help build the capacity of others, the more good you can do. Seems to me that should be a part of every organization's mission.

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