Building A High-Trust Organization

In his instant-classic book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni identifies TRUST as the necessary foundational building block for any organization that desires to be healthy and performing at peak potential.  I think it’s fair to say we all desire to lead or participate in organizations, including churches, that perform at a high level, are characterized by healthy interaction and operate with a deep sense of shared purpose or mission.  According to Lencioni, none of that is likely if trust is missing.

Why is trust so important?  There are many reasons but here are two of the most important.  Results depend on trust.  For instance, football teams win games when everyone on the team trusts the coach’s game plan, the team trusts the quarterback’s decision making and the team members trust each other’s ability to do their part.  The same is true in business, in church and all kinds of meaningful endeavors.  If trust is lacking, there are cracks in the foundation that will make it impossible for those involved to invest their best effort.  A second reason is that creativity and innovation tend to flourish in climates of trust but shut down when distrust is prevalent.

If building a high trust organization were easy, everyone would do it.  The truth is it isn’t easy and it takes constant vigilance on the part of leaders to stay focused on the value of being a high-trust organization.  In their recent Leader to Leader Journal article, Pamela S. Shockly-Zalabak and Sherwyn P. Morreale identified five dimensions that are key components of building and maintaining a high-trust organization.  Here’s the essence of the five dimensions.

Competence.  For an organization to achieve ‘high-trust’ status, it’s essential that everyone perceive and experience it as a competent organization.  Competence is the ability of the organization, through its leaders’ strategies, decision-making and other capabilities, to meet the challenges of its environment. Leaders build trust when they commit to continually improving and developing a culture of competence.

Openness and Honesty. How an organization communicates concerning its problems and engages in constructive disagreements reflects its openness and honesty.  Employees and other will trust an organization when they believe they are receiving truthful, meaningful, sufficient and timely information from the leadership of the organization. Over 80 percent of the organizations the authors surveyed reported communication problems, with the credibility of the leader’s communication generally rated low.  Organizations that want to create a high-trust environment will make proactive, meaningful communication a high priority.  Building trust in openness and honesty is based on adopting a “need to share” instead of a “need to know” mentality throughout the organization. This type of communication is not one-way but requires active listening on the part of all leaders.

Concern for Employees and Stakeholders. For employees to trust the organization, they need to believe they are being heard and action is being taken concerning their needs, ideas or concerns.  Other stakeholders tend to evaluate concern based on the quality of service, dispute resolution policies, timeliness, and the overall ease and accessibility of interacting with the organization.

Building trust and concern is based on a genuine caring for others, a commitment to doing what is right, and a belief that caring and commitment will generate organizational excellence.  This requires continual examination of one’s communications, policies, practices and processes that goes beyond the most obvious to include conflict resolution, financial controls, reward and recognition programs, medical benefits, leave policies, and a host of other areas. The intent to be caring must be aligned with the organization’s actions.

Reliability. Reliability is about leaders and managers keeping commitments and maintaining basic follow through.  It’s about consistent day-to-day behavior, doing what we say we’ll do, responding in a timely way and consistently listening. Inconsistency in our actions will tear down trust.  Conversely, a high trust in reliability helps an organization work through crises and problems.  To build trust in reliability, leaders need to be personally reliable but also understand the organization’s reliability profile.  Words and action must be aligned, there must be accountability for results and leaders must be transparent, taking personal responsibility for their own actions.

Identification.  Identification is the connection between the organization and an individual employee or stakeholder based on shared core values and purpose.  Identification happens when employees believe their own values are reflected in the values the organization exhibits in day-to-day behavior. Stakeholders experience strong identification with an organization when they have a connection to its services and products. Understanding the norms and values of the organization’s culture and the extent to which everyone identifies with them is critical to building trust and trust in the values of an organization provides the bonding it takes to work through difficulties.

Trust is the Main Thing. Leaders who desire to build highly effective organizations understand that trust is fundamental to stimulate the innovation, creativity, and risk taking needed to bring about productive change.  A high trust level transforms individuals and entire organizations. While distrust creates an environment of fear, trust stops fear in its tracks!  If you want your organization to reach its maximum potential, begin by making sure you are building trust in each of these five dimensions.


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