What can you do about a culture of Mistrust…

2011/07/01

Trust is a very personal thing. Many people can believe trust should between two people and should not be confused as a culture to be followed or propagated. But in many organizations, dysfunctions and interpersonal issues are mostly (from my personal experiences) offshoot’s of an underlying thread of mistrust. Most people are not willing to see anything beyond the layer of behavior and talk at lengths about what’s wrong and more importantly, with whom. Of course an organization is only a place we spend time in to fulfill a lot of our personal aspirations, but we spend considerable amount of time there. And if it bleeds of mistrust, we just can’t get up in the morning looking forward for a day’s work, even if it means just a check list item.

Some common symptoms of organizations bleeding in a culture of mistrust could include:

  • No meaningful confrontation happens, every dialogue happens through the immediate supervisor.
  • Only tasks are delegated, not responsibilities.
  • Issues are never isolated from people. Resolving issues always means pulling up people connected to it.
  • Data is not an important aspect in operations.
  • Data provided for anything is not validated, but contended.
  • Being politically right is more important than being right.
  • Personal interests always score over team/organizational goals, at any point of time.
  • People are more interested in saving the ass, rather than resolving issues.

The list can go on, but these are some of the major symptoms I have noticed from my experience. Requesting you to add your thoughts too in case I missed any.

And sometimes, we just accept this as reality and wait for the first opportunity to move on. Though that’s not wrong, I would say we can first try a few things to see if there is something we can do to make things better for us, and honestly for people around us before taking that step. And if we work in the capacity of managers, I guess it is our responsibility to try our best to make things better for our team and other teams as well.

Resort to meaningful dialogue – Talk directly to people to whom we have question. Rather than going to the manager, its better we talk to the people directly. It might work, or might not work, but it’s worth the try. This involves a lot of courage, but we should not forget it involves some consideration as well. Being honest is not an excuse for not treating people with respect.

Make Data the primary performance parameter N. R. Narayana Murthy once famously said, “In god we believe, everyone else brings data to the table”. This should not mean we must remove the human aspect out of the equation. Alarming data points can be used as a basis to understand issues, derive action items and then arrive at people responsible for them. In many cases, issues/deviation is more a factor of the process.

Identify process issues before people issues – Again this does not mean we should neglect people issues – which is very common – but does the process itself allow for eccentricities? You cannot expect a project to be profitable if it goes through 10 review cycles by different people, and expect the primary contributor to have a keen eye for detail too. You will end up overshooting the budget, and at the end of the day, the primary contributor will not be interested in doing things the first time right, given people are anyway going to have “new ideas” over every coffee they have.

Confront mistrust with honesty – M.K. Gandhi said the worst punishment you can hand over to an untrustworthy person is treating him/her with honestly. Nothing can be farther from truth. Always be honest and forthright with people, but don’t expect that favor to be returned.

Isolate issues from people – Whenever we need to resolve issues, its better we talk about the issue rather than the person responsible for it. Again, this is not to say people don’t screw up, but at least will help in building a culture of trust. Start with the issue, and then move to the people responsible for it.

Place facts over feelings – Feelings are generally an offshoot of behaviors. People “feel” something about others based on what he/she has “done” in the past. Though this is not something we should just disregard, it will help if we ask for facts. Feelings can be subjective, facts just cannot.

Trust people conditionally, and treat them respectfully – This is from one of my favorite authors – Stephen Covey. Trusting should not mean we blindly trust whatever people say. It’s better to also place accountability to what is said. We should specifically ask for instances/data when people generally provide malicious information about others. And this does not mean we should undervalue the importance of respect just because we have evidence of deviations. By treating people with respect and trusting them conditionally, we send out a very important message – I’m prepared to deal with issues and people who deviate from specified norms that you bring up, but that does not mean I will blindly trust you into pulling people up for “allegations”.

All the above points are a reflection of what can be done for a team/organization that is at the lowest level of trust quotient. Once the trust factor is established, we can move to more mature management/leadership principles like collaboration etc. What do you think?


%d bloggers like this: