Senior Director of Product Innovation Everything DiSC, a Wiley brand
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How to create a culture of trust in your organisation

Improving company culture starts with tackling this universal barrier...

17th Sep 2020
Senior Director of Product Innovation Everything DiSC, a Wiley brand
Share this content
diverse group of colleagues discussing something around a table in a meeting
iStock/kate_sept2004

What culture drains do you have hiding in the corners of your organisation? Cliques? Gossip? People hiding mistakes? Long-time employees resisting change? These types of issues are often subtle. In fact, they can be so subtle that they’re easy to ignore. Drip by drip, however, all of these actions have a cumulative impact.

If HR teams can help people to own their personal quirks, and then help them extend that same goodwill to their colleagues, we can cultivate a counteragent: a culture of trust.

These behaviours erode your company culture at a time when collaboration, engagement, innovation and risk taking are needed more than ever. When people are working from home, it’s even harder for HR teams to keep an eye on these tendencies – and step in to curb them when the damage moves from subtle to ‘we need to have a talk’.

Root causes

The other thing that’s worth mentioning about these culture drains is this: they’re completely normal. They happen in Britain. They happen in Italy. They happen in South Korea. They happen in the office. They happen working from home.

These culture drains don’t pop up because society is broken or toxic, because there’s a pandemic or a recession. They happen because we are human. As humans, we have a variety of different psychological needs. There is perhaps no need more common than the one that springs from a central insecurity at our core. It expresses itself in any number of ways, but always takes this same basic shape: ‘am I a good, valuable person?’

This fundamental insecurity drives some of our greatest successes. Unfortunately, it also drives the territorialism and passive aggressive communication that chips away at not only our organisation’s results, but also the collective wellbeing of the people charged with delivering those results.

So, if this insecurity has such drastic implications, surely we’re doing our very best to tackle it head on, right? Nope. In fact, by far the most common response is to simply try and push it outside of our awareness.

Same as it ever was

This isn’t new. Both at work and in our personal lives we pretend that insecurity is something we should have outgrown, a leftover of adolescence. When we do mention it, we regard it as a character flaw. We treat insecurity as an insult or as a way of dismissing someone, ‘oh, he’s just acting like that because he’s insecure’.

Insecurity is all too often dismissed as a weakness, and the best word I can think to describe this attitude is ‘malignant’. It causes us to pretend insecurity is not there. That it shouldn’t be there. To not talk about it. Not acknowledge it. The universal is treated as an anomaly.

Is there a single person you know who doesn’t have significant insecurities? Insecurity has everything to do with how we do our jobs, especially now, during this time of unprecedented uncertainty and volatility, when too many of us are separated from our normal routines and support mechanisms.

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Erosion of culture

So how do our insecurities manifest themselves when we are at work? Here are just a few examples:

  • Territorialism: when there’s a hint that someone might be encroaching on our unique contribution to the organisation, we make sure they don’t have access to certain information.
  • Gossip: when someone’s offhanded sarcastic comment makes us think they don’t value what we do, we disparage them to a co-worker.
  • False consensus: when we worry that we’ll be labelled combative if we don’t agree with the team’s decision, we keep quiet.

Drip by drip, these actions slowly, and usually imperceptibly, corrode the machinery of the organisation’s culture – a steady drain on efficiency, communication, transparency, engagement, creativity and objective decision-making. As these behaviours often go unchecked in a remote working environment, right now creating a culture of trust is vital.

Building trust

Personality frameworks and personality-based learning experiences can help teams to build trust. For example, insight into the fundamental dimensions of human nature can help individuals to understand themselves and their colleagues.

Perhaps some people on your team have a fast-paced and outspoken style, while others have a more cautious and reflective style? Some people are naturally more sceptical and questioning, whereas others are more accepting and warm – and that’s ok. Your organisation will benefit from having a diverse group of people with different work styles.

What’s more, by digging a little bit deeper, a short assessment can show people where they sit on these dimensions, and what that means for their work and their interactions with others. They walk away with a deeper understanding of themselves and a framework to organise their interpersonal relationships. Even more powerful still, is to then create a corrective emotional experience around this new understanding.

Emotional learning

This isn’t as scary as it sounds. It’s a classic approach to therapy based on our knowledge that unlearning an emotional lesson is almost impossible to do purely through reflection and insight. In the workplace we can do this, through in-person or virtual training sessions and every day, by developing a space for people to be vulnerable with each other.

In a training session for instance, by creating an environment that is healthy and safe, our people can be vulnerable. Instead of the anticipated negative occurrence a person emotionally expects when sharing their insecurities, they have a positive experience. Slowly, by doing this over and over again the emotional brain rewrites the rules of the world, the rules that govern relationships. As a result they’re able to grow.

Different isn’t bad

In a healthy space, not only do people get the opportunity to express themselves, they also get to see other people listening and processing what they’re saying. Particularly the kind of things we rarely have a non-awkward chance to say in our daily work. Just as powerful is hearing other people describe what they appreciate so much about our contributions.

It’s by hearing other people talk about their appreciation of our work style that we internalise the message, ‘I am valued here’. It’s by witnessing other people talk about the struggles they also have with their style that we internalise the message, ‘I’m not alone in my insecurity’. It’s by experiencing, first hand, how the different styles need each other to succeed that we internalise the message, ‘different doesn’t equal bad’.

In it together

Every single one of us struggles with insecurity. In fact, we do it every single day of our lives, even when we don’t realise it. What we realise even less, however, is just how much this insecurity eats away at our organisational cultures.

If HR teams can help people to own their personal quirks, and then help them extend that same goodwill to their colleagues, we can cultivate a counteragent: a culture of trust. The good news is that organisations and the HR teams within them can reliably create experiences that bolster this trust and break down the universal barrier of human insecurity.

For more advice and information about tackling the universal barrier within your organisation, access a free download of the Everything DiSC eBook, The Invisible Drain on Your Company’s Culture by Dr Mark Scullard. Everything DiSC Workplace® is DNV-GL certified as an occupational test tool. It is EFPA compliant and to be used for development purposes.

Interested in this topic? Read Employee trust: a valuable commodity in times of crisis.

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