The Vulnerability of Trust

If we are to trust, we are vulnerable.

In The Monarchy of Fear, discussing democracy in contrast with monarchy, Martha Nussbaum highlights that with the trust that is required to support an effective democracy comes a vulnerability to others.

Trust means being willing to be exposed, to allow your own future to lie in the hands of your fellow citizens.

Effectiveness in our newer patterns of work is increasingly dependent on greater trust. That also means we must all work at a higher level of vulnerability and dependence on others. That’s not a comfortable place for many people. Vulnerability is not a value that many organisations embrace.

If we don’t explicitly embrace the relationship between vulnerability and trust we are likely to engage in a cycle of counterproductive behaviours. Our rising discomfort at vulnerability leads us to implement systems to remove the discomfort. These systems, because they are controlling, unilateral or misaligned, in turn undermine the trust we are seeking to foster.

How do we grow trust?

To grow mutual trust we must recognised that it is a human characteristic, not a mechanical one. There are many definitions and drivers of trust but each individual makes a trust assessment in each moment individually. They are supported in this by the values of community but they make a decision alone. Some people will never trust others.

If we are to grow trust in our work communities, we must embrace its humanity first. That’s one reason that the Value Maturity Model starts with human trust building actions like connection and sharing. Understanding each other and our shared context is a foundation for trust.

Working out loud can play an important role to build this connection and shared context. It is also a chance to practice the vulnerability of trust.

We must act with reciprocity. Trust is reciprocal. To win trust, we must give it. This is one reason why we must allow degrees of freedom in our work. Command and control is not reciprocal and cannot build trust. It may be predictable, but inequality and control are not signs or facilitators of trust.

We must challenge the systems that undermine trust. This will challenge us to lean into our vulnerabilities and pull down some of the hallmarks of the mechanistic scientific management that we have created. That system is based in hierarchy, fear and control to maximise repeatability and predictability.

Lastly we must have a belief in human potential. We trust because we believe our colleagues have the potential to surprise us on the upside. It won’t be every time and they will often disappoint us. However the gains from the collective human potential of the organisation must outweigh individual achievement or we wouldn’t have an organisation. Our challenge is to trust in that outcome, trust in our peers and manage the balance of risks.

The power of new ways of working are to better leverage human potential. We must embrace trust and its vulnerabilities to achieve that outcome.

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