One of the clearest themes we’ve seen emerge in the last two years has been trust – or rather the lack thereof. Employers have resisted remote work, citing their concerns that without direct and physical supervision people would not do the work they were paid to do. Employees not only resented this lack of trust in their integrity but also registered complaints of work scope that was misrepresented or continually expanded with no compensation, demonstrating their lack of trust in leadership.
Of course, like everything else we’re seeing in sharp relief right now, this isn’t new. Trust between people, between roles, and between departments, has been a subject of concern for decades. More books have been written on the topic than I can mention here, entire consultancies have been dedicated to the promise of increasing trust in your organization, and millions of dollars have been invested in exercises, retreats, and programs designed to build trust.
So it’s not like we haven’t previously considered trust to be essential to business growth. It’s just that our current state of business definitively shows that we haven’t made the advances we need to make.
In part, that is because we are typically trying to “nurture” trust in environments where human needs are not being met. This might result in temporary relief, but because the foundation hasn’t been laid for human teams to feel secure and fulfilled we soon see trust eroding and old patterns taking over. Kim Baker, Certified Reina Trust Building® implementer, writes that “…one big reason that trust building often fails is that leaders wait until the lack of trust is obvious then treat trust building like an event. But what we know when it comes to building trust is that we build it incrementally over time and no amount of nurturing can make up for a culture that lacks the basic elements of trust.”
Nurturing isn’t a bad thing, but if you are not meeting the needs of the humans in your organization; what I call The Six Facets of Human Needs®, then nurturing is at best ineffective and at worst back-fires, further depleting trust. I share these six universal human needs in my book The Human Team, but let me just illustrate the difference between nurturing and truly meeting these human needs using just the first two; Clarity and Connection.
True clarity about everything from the big vision, to roles and expectations, to company and individual goals results in a team that can be effective even when they have to navigate conditions that are uncertain or ambiguous. When it’s missing, people are unsure, confused, not able to even trust themselves to achieve a successful result.
So let’s imagine that you’ve just returned from a truly amazing team retreat. You’ve been vulnerable, you’ve been heard and supported, you’ve really experienced trust between all those who attended. You’re excited to get back into the swing of things at work, feeling sure that this new level of trust is going to mean a whole new experience and new levels of success for the entire team.
But within a month, or less, you’re still trying to get clarity on why you can expect from others on the team or what they can expect from you. Everyone is trying harder, everyone is nicer, but no one seems to be any more confident that they know what those expectations are. You might still trust the individuals, but it’s unlikely that you are experiencing trust in the outcomes.
Or maybe you’re trying to get clarity on the reason behind the outcomes that have been assigned to you and your team. Or you’re unclear on the boundaries of the work, or the benefits and perks you have coming to you if you nail the results.
How much trust do you feel now? Compare that to daily participating in work activities with a team of humans who all have clarity of their role and yours as well as the outcomes you’re achieving together and the rewards of achieving them.
Humans have a basic survival need to feel connected, to have a sense of belonging to a group of people who share something bigger than themselves.
So imagine that you’ve just returned from that retreat and you’re back at work in a culture that lacks the structure to maintain that sense of connection. You might feel more connected to the people with whom you shared the peak experience of the retreat, at least while that experience is fresh in your mind, but do any of you feel more connected to the company as a whole? Do you feel like you belong to a larger purpose or are you bonding over your disconnection and distrust of other departments or the company leadership?
Compare that to working with a group of people who bond over shared goals, who connect over wins and loses, because they’re all working with the same end in mind. Are you more likely to trust the people you did a nurturing exercise with or the people with whom you share a common purpose every day?
Nurturing can be a wonderful addition to your team building strategy, but personal, professional, and business growth can only be built on a foundation of trust. We can only expect to instill and nurture trust between individuals when the human needs of those individuals are being met. Without that foundation we’re planting seeds in soil that lacks the right conditions for those seeds to sprout and grow.