To trust or not to trust, that is the question 

We live in a world driven by mistrust. It is increasingly common to hear cases of corruption, scandals, fraud. Our data do not seem to continue being as safe either. What we think is private is no longer so. There is a global crisis of trust that impacts institutions, as well as professional and personal relationships. We must rethink the way we trust (or not). 

Mistrust is very expensive; it is inefficient. In a transaction where I don’t trust, I check every detail multiple times; when I’m not confident in someone’s work, doubts bounce around in my head. When I don’t fully believe, I establish more robust processes. I lose agility in decision making; I lose business. 

An example of this phenomenon occurred after the September 11 attacks. The time it takes to cross an airport rose exponentially. People mistrust planes because the attacks showed the security measures in place were not enough. Therefore, it was necessary to increase the security measures in airports, and although this allows to prevent other attacks, now traveling costs more and takes much longer. In other words, it is more inefficient. 

Today we no longer trust, and that seems to be safer. Distrust is a ticket we acquire to minimize risks, to take care of ourselves. 

Trust as an engine 

The word trust has within it the notion of “faith”; it supposes a belief. This belief is the fundamental input of any relationship, both personal and work relationships. It can speed up a relationship by improving the way we relate or destroy it. Friends, couples, teams, leaders who trust achieve better results. When they don’t, the cost is higher. 

Trust is an economic engine, a skill that is learned, that can be quantified and that increases profitability in organizations while making relationships more dynamic. Without trust, there are no true teams. When trust increases in a team or in an organization, so does commitment. And when commitment goes up, so does trust. 

Trust within companies 

When companies generate internal trust, they achieve better agreements. And companies are chains of agreements and commitments between people. Agile companies trust people and thus avoid rework.

When we trust people within a company, everything improves. Netflix allows teams to decide how many vacations they take. Unilever allows everyone to work from wherever they want, and several companies give their employees total freedom of schedules. If we trust people, we achieve more commitment. 

Airbnb builds its business on trust. Property owners decide to host a stranger in their house, trusting they will not damage it. Amazon works because people trust if they pay upfront, they will get their product. 

In addition, when companies generate internal trust, they achieve better agreements. And companies are chains of agreements and commitments between people. Agile companies trust people and thus avoid rework.

Trust within teams 

Similarly, teams are built on trust. According to Patrick Lencioni, the foundation of any team is trust. If I do not trust the number that a collaborator reports to me, I am going to audit it several times. All this rework would be avoided if I could trust, either because I have a process that assures me it is correct, or because whoever calculated the number has proven over time not to be wrong. That reliability gained is eventually a good reputation. Hence, it is said that trust takes time to earn, but is destroyed in minutes.

That reliability basically depends on two judgments:

  • Commitment: related to integrity, to the reasons behind what we do, to our intentions. Someone may or may not be trustworthy to me because they are motivated by very different interests than mine. 
  • Competence: related to abilities, skills, to the capability of achieving results. Someone may have the best of motives, but simply doesn’t know how to do the task correctly. 

In other words, I can trust that you intend to translate this text from English, but I just don’t think you know enough to do it right. 

To help encourage us to take the risk of trusting, we must do so carefully. Trust must not be blind, but intelligent. A type of trust that takes care of risks, and that supposes careful management, with check-ups and methods that protect us when situations warrant it.  This way, we will be able to navigate these levels of uncertainty and low expectations much better. I am sure if we do this, relationships, teams, and companies will not only be more prosperous, but more inspiring and with better levels of energy and well-being. Don’t believe me? Guess, you’ll just have to trust me.

Ernesto Weissmann
Partner at Tandem.

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