Is Trust or Fear Driving Your Organizational Culture?


Knowledge Management structures are generally established to improve an organization’s effectiveness and efficiency. The “holy grail” to achieve these goals derives from an interplay of trust, communication, and integrity. Of these three, trust plays the foundational role -- laying the groundwork for open communication and programmatic integrity.

There are a multitude of dimensions we can look at that make up “trust” at an organizational level.   See Slide 8 of the video, “Quantifying Culture” here for a more complete picture: click here

As an individual or team within a larger organization, it’s crucial to ask, “What am I doing?” and “Where am I going?” as well as, “Do I trust you that we’re heading in the same direction?” The goal is to achieve organizational reciprocity – or citizenship – a contract between employer and employee to support one another.

In other words, it extends beyond trust between team members; whether or not team members trust one another. It is important that team members trust that they are headed in the same direction as the organization, and that the organization values the same things that they do as individuals.

What is the antithesis of trust?  FEAR!  And the number one goal for organizational effectiveness, as Dr. Deming has stated, is to “Drive Out Fear!”  The bottom line impact of fear in an organization is that it stifles new ideas and growth.

Trust is vital to building communication within an organization. Team members need to know that they are free to communicate up and down, to ask questions, and even disagree openly. This opens up the door for the team to realize there are certain goals which need to be reached, and openly and honestly discuss whether they have attained them.  If not, what must they do to attain them?

Leadership must be open to receiving an objective critique of how they are perceived by those in their charge.  Do their behaviors and values drive the culture in the direction it needs to go in order to achieve overall goals?  It means asking the hard questions:  How do we avoid the blame game?  Can we communicate up and down the lines effectively?  Can we have arguments? 

If leadership can look at these questions from a numbers perspective, it takes away the blame game.  Where are the gaps and how much is it costing you?  What is your “organizational GPS?”  Define this, then the team can begin to move in the same direction, using a prescriptive model to remedy these issues, including individual needs for training. Once the team has a common goal, and the team members have specific roles which fit into the overall goal, they can move efficiently towards achieving that goal, and no one member will be blamed if the goal is not achieved.

An environment of trust motivates team members to accomplish their goals, and helps to build a culture which is self-improving. Open communication helps to build the integrity of an organization, a vital component of success.

Building trust is important, but may seem a huge hurdle to overcome.  In Part 2 of this discussion, we will look at using metrics to evaluate trust within your organization.

Thanks to Jim Pfautz, CDR, USNR, CEO of SelfSolutions, Inc. for his insights, as excerpted from his message to the GIAS Conference – November 2012.