Organizational trust: It’s not just about making everyone feel like family

August 3, 2016

In just this past month, three of my clients have shared with me their desire to uphold a family atmosphere at work.

I have been a part of organizations that strongly value a family atmosphere, and I have benefited from that kind of environment in wonderful ways. I grew professionally as I learned from my coworkers, enjoyed my interactions at work each day, created long-lasting friendships, and produced great work with and because of my colleagues. At the core, organizations that try to foster a family atmosphere want people to be cared for, nurtured, and encouraged to grow – all great things.

However, there is a danger to promoting your workplace as a family because, well, organizations are not families. They focus on advancing their mission and give feedback on performance. They hire and fire people. They pay people for their time. These things don’t usually happen in family units.

Sometimes, organizations that strive to uphold a family atmosphere can abandon or ignore formal policies and procedures because these formalities are seen as impersonal and rigid as opposed to personal and nurturing. But abandoning these structures actually works against creating trust because it promotes a lack of consistency in communication and treatment between staff.

So how does an organization ensure that people are cared for, nurtured, and encouraged to grow while still incorporating formalities and systems?

Here are some ways to create healthy boundaries and build true organizational trust at the same time:

1) Check and build upon your Human Resource systems:

  • Create organizational policies based on fairness rather than the individual needs of staff members and try to implement these policies consistently before issues arise.
  • Measure performance consistently so that employees know what to expect. Co-create individual and organizational goals to work toward.
  • Put a salary structure in place that relates to competencies, experience, and skill.
  • Give rewards and recognition systematically rather than ad-hoc. Communicate with employees how they can receive raises and promotions.
  • Make staffing decisions based on roles that meet the organization’s mission rather than on people. If a person’s skillset no longer fits the organizational need, work with them to find a place where it does. Saying goodbye may be the best thing for them as well as the organization, especially if it is done with compassion.
  • Develop your onboarding and off-boarding system. Ensure people are welcomed in appropriately and given time to adjust to a new organization and way of doing things. When people leave the organization, think of ways to honor the time they gave and create ways for them to give honest feedback.

2) Help your employees learn and grow:

  • Give feedback throughout the year rather than only during the annual performance review. After each project or task, look at what went well and what could be changed or improved.
  • Give employees freedom to take new risks and fail.
  • When employees fail, share feedback in terms of behavior change rather than broad or vague statements.
  • Be aware of inconsistent messages and false feedback, as these are enemies of trust. For more on the “enemies of trust”, and the three types of trust (organizational, personal and strategic), check out this article from the Harvard Business Review here. 

3) Take time get to know, and appreciate, your colleagues:

  • Learn more about the uniqueness of your colleagues and what each person contributes to the work.
  • Discuss how different approaches can work for different projects and what is likely to work well for individual projects.

In implementing some of these practices and policies (boundaries), organizational trust processes will be built, allowing individuals to focus on developing themselves and their work. We will suggest ways to build the other two types of trust, personal and strategic, in the workplace in future blog posts, so check back soon!

By Associate Consultant, Jenni Ingram


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