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11/2/2006
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I Just Don't Trust You

"If we are used to seeing knowledge as a scarce resource (and by owning it we have power), we are less inclined to engage in open idea exchange." -- Guy Dugas, Professor, Red River College, Manitoba, Canada

When I use Google to search for "trust in collaboration" I find a host of PDFs and Web sites designed to help organizations either measure or try to foster trust in collaborative scenarios. While a good portion of these deals exclusively with inter-organizational partnerships, there are many that explore the challenges found within organizations.

Some are written from a human resources perspective -- a light, band-aid approach to a pretty deep problem that stops organizations from becoming and/or staying leaders in their fields. Others are tomes that you'd be hard pressed to find anyone reading due to lack of time. Frankly, I'm amazed that professionals even have the time to read my blog entries on a regular basis, the demands on their time are so high. Thank you for that, by the way. I appreciate your time.

And, of course, there are the hundreds of companies and individual consultants who would be very happy to charge big bucks for spending a few days at an organization giving targeted workshops on developing trust within organizations in order to improve morale and collaboration. But do those workshops engender lasting change?

Many years ago, in college, I took an acting class. In this class, we were required to participate in trust-building exercises. One classic exercise had us standing on the edge of a table, facing away from our fellow students who were gathered around the table prepared to catch us one-by-one as we fell.

I had a tough time letting go of my preconceived notions that they would not catch me. Why wouldn't they catch me? I would catch them. Eventually, I fell backward into the arms of my classmates and felt a rush of relief and a wave of embarrassment. How could I have doubted the group who only wanted me to succeed? I only wanted success for each of them, and I am hardly unique.

If we extend this thinking to collaborating within an organization, we may be able to persuade groups to more readily trust each other. They have a singular purpose, to help their ogranization succeed. If the organization succeeds, the employee succeeds.

Leading organizations exhibit many similar traits, but two of them are good communication within the organization and trust between employees. By continuous, open communication, they know that their coworkers are depending on them, and vice versa. Their human resources departments seek people with similar work ethics. They look for potential hires who have within them an optimism and an openness that leads to trustworthy behavior. Most importantly, they don't require others to prove their trustworthiness before they share their knowledge. They don't perceive others as potential threats.

Do these people actually exist? Yes, they do.

They understand that shared knowledge is much more powerful than if it is kept from the larger group. Seems like common sense, doesn't it? Well, not to everyone.

When more organizations communicate effectively to their employees that they are trustworthy at all levels, and that sharing knowledge within their safe environment is highly valued, they will experience more solidarity and consequently, more success. However, lasting change takes time and repeated effort. So, if you are charged with the massive task of improving trust within the organization, you are in it for the long haul.

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