Trust is critical to successful organizations. While it may be an example of our ability to acquiesce in functional stupidity, trust accelerates decision making and reduces transaction costs in teams and organisations. Arguably the boundaries of trust shape the size and structure of our organisations. Without trust there can be no effective engagement of employees, the community or other stakeholders.

A recent insightful analysis on trust in organisations highlights three elements of internal trust in organisations:
– vertical interpersonal trust – trust in direct superiors
– lateral interpersonal trust – trust in peers
– impersonal trust – trust in processes and systems

As we consider changes to the shape of our organisations and their systems to leverage disruption and create more responsive organisations, we must remember to balance the demands of each of these forms of trust. A shift from hierarchical autocratic management may reduce the demand for vertical interpersonal trust, but it will increase the need for the other two forms. Agile team based work can increase lateral interpersonal trust, but will also place demands on impersonal trust through changes required in systems and processes.

Changing the way we work will require us to strike a new balance between these three forms of trust with all the participants in the system. It will have ramifications for trust externally as these three models are reflected in our relations externally as well. Trust can’t be imposed. It must be earned in action, capability and credible intent.

As we adjust our organisation models, we will need to take our whole system into a new balance of trust. Impersonal trust, trust in the systems and processes we use, will be the critical component to that process of engagement and adjustment.

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