Door Martijn de Zoete
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Trust within an organisation. Is that possible?

Trust within an organisation.  Is that possible?

Trust is one of the major issues in organisations. What is trust, what happens when there is mistrust, how can you influence trust as a manager. Read the 5 tips for management to create trust!

Trust within an organisation. Is that possible?

I have asked myself the following questions: “What is truly the most important thing between and within organisations? Why do we like doing business with some organisations and dislike doing business with other organisations? Why do I enjoy working with certain people and dislike working with other people within one and the same organisation at the same time?”

Eventually I came up with one single key word to answer all these questions:


Anyway, it takes a significant reflection process to come up with such a key word.  I would like to share these thoughts with you. 

Trust within an organisation:
When talking about an organisation, you are actually talking about people. Because an organisation itself is a group of people working together towards a certain goal. When talking about trust in an organisation, you’re talking about trust in the people who work for that organisation. The trust in people within their functional part.

It often helps me to think of what would happen when there is a lack of trust. Unfortunately, this is more common than we would like it to be.

The most extreme form would be distrust. And when you distrust an organisation, you will not be doing business with it for sure. When there’s distrust among employees, they won’t be sharing things with one another. You will not put yourself in a vulnerable position. You will create a shield around you, because this shield will give you a sense of safety. But is it useful? By not sharing issues and remaining stuck within your own sense of safety, important things will not be negotiable.

What happens when things aren’t discussed, when they remain unspoken? The appearance of harmony is created. We will definitely not address each other, because that would mean taking the risk of being addressed yourself. An atmosphere of ‘live and let live’ and ‘resignation’ is created. A ‘whatever, I don’t care’ mentality.

This is in fact truly sad, because as an employee, you are feeding your own sense of loneliness. The ‘we’ feeling has gone and so is the involvement with others. Subsequently you will be focused on your own tasks. If you make sure to finish your own work, at least you’ve got that one tackled. Being responsible for a larger part? What does that mean?

Focussing on your own work means loss, a loss in focus on the organisation’s goals. You’ve completely lost sight of the common goal and the only thing that matters to you is your own smaller goal.

When there’s a lack of trust within an organisation, this can be pointed out in 6 items.

  • You have an invulnerable and distant attitude
  • You block yourself from criticism in order to protect yourself
  • Discussions are taken as a personal attack and you avoid those
  • You become isolated and lonely
  • You merely focus on your own tasks
  • The only thing that matters is your own result 

An example of distrust:

Organisation ‘A’ was restructuring the reception department. Its two colleagues were asked to work different days/times. Both ladies picked the same day in the week as their preferred day off. But one of them was obliged to work that day. By not putting themselves in a vulnerable position, not indicating why they didn’t want to work that specific day, disagreement settled within the department. The colleagues worked solely for themselves, only thought about themselves. The ‘we’ feeling was gone. Talking about this, discussing the points of disagreement, led to a compromise between them. Both colleagues listened to each other, they have put themselves in a vulnerable position and have talked about the problem. They have regained each other’s trust and the ‘we’ feeling has returned.

Therefore, when there’s a lack of trust within an organisation, cooperation is hard to find. It takes a lot of negative energy, a huge amount of frustration and last but not least, it will cost an enormous amount of money! 

What can be done?

What if you find yourself working in such an organisation? There’s hardly any trust. Even more so, you have little to no trust in a number of people around you. What can you do to stay away from the downward spiral I just described?

First of all, you can think of all the reasons why you do not trust the other one. What is it exactly that this person does to make you feel like you can’t trust them? Is it something they say, is it the way they look, the way they sit in their chair, the arguments they come up with? What is it exactly? Don’t they stick to their agreements? Are their actions contradicting their words!

You will have to perceive and identify something, by paying attention to the non-verbal and verbal behaviour. When you are able to identify this for yourself, you can either discuss this or proceed with the following step.

Second of all, self-reflection is really important. Isolate yourself from the situation. If you can’t identify anything negative in someone else’s behaviour, it might well be that your mind is playing tricks on you. Ask yourself: “Is what I have identified really a reason to distrust this person?” You can check yourself by asking yourself:

“Do I think it is true, or do I know it is true”

During my years of practical experience in coaching people I have learnt that it is often not necessary to distrust someone and that our mind is playing tricks on us. Realising that the other one can in fact be trusted, is an important step toward cooperation and improvement of the organisation’s result! That is why investing in trust is of such great importance! It is a precondition for focussing on the organisation’s result!

Because what would happen if there was trust within an organisation?

The employees would be able to put themselves in a vulnerable position. They would ask for help and support when they need it. Issues would be discussed openly, and discussions would be about the content, never losing respect for the other person. It would be possible to talk about the difficult issues again. People would come up with solutions which would be supported by everybody. You wouldn’t feel lonely anymore, you would be cooperating! When there’s this kind of trust, everybody feels involved and everyone will take responsibility. This is the way to achieve the common result.

“When you’re alone you travel fast, together you travel further”


The manager

When turning distrust into trust within an organisation, the role of the manager is of the utmost importance. He is a role model for all the people he’s responsible for and those people use some sort of ‘trust account’. 

At the start of a cooperation this account is positive. Most employees give their manager a fair chance. Every time a manager does something trustworthy, the employee makes a small deposit on the trust account. Every time the employee has a negative experience with his manager, he withdraws an amount from this account. Whenever the trust is damaged, the amount withdrawn gets higher. Shortly the manager will reach an overdraft and from then on, interest must be paid. It will get harder and harder to get rid of the overdraft. There’s an expression for this kind of thing: Trust can take years to build, but only seconds to shatter.

What can a manager do in order to create an environment of trust, in which people are willing to put themselves in a vulnerable position.

The most important thing is to show exemplary behaviour. It helps to:

  1. Tell people what you do
  2. Explain why you do it and
  3. Actually do it.

This is how you build trust, thus making a conscious deposit on the trust account. Leaving out one of these things means creating a lack of understanding and possibly distrust.

esides considering these three steps, a good manager is also aware of the social relationships amongst his employees. Whenever he identifies distrust between employees, he will act upon it. The signal he is giving in doing so, is that there is zero tolerance for distrust. Should a manager fail to act upon it while knowing that there’s something going on between his employees, he creates an unsafe environment and is therefor part of the distrust. By doing so, he withdraws a huge amount from the trust account. As a manager you will soon reach an overdraft. Doing nothing is also an action, especially in the eyes of the employees!

Finally, it is also important to give trust to your employees. They are the ones doing the work, they know best (at least that should be the case).  

 “Trusting others is something you gain by giving it away”
M. de Zoete

A fine example of trust in employees within an organization is set by Toyota. The employees work side by side on the production line. Should anyone see or believe to have seen an error, they are expected to stop the line. Despite the fact that the production targets will probably not be reached, the management trusts its employees to well observe any errors. Despite the fact that it will almost certainly cost time and money, this trust in the employees does pay off. The costs of repairing errors are higher than the costs to stop the production line and employees are motivated to deliver a faultless final product.

So, in answer to all the questions I’ve asked myself at the beginning of this blog, there’s one key word:



Martijn de Zoete guides organisations in their change processes by introducing the concept of focusing on desired behavior. He developed the Z-model of Change®, a model that clarifies and simplifies change in a clear and understandable way. Through his company AnyChange he applies this concept to both large as well as small organisations on a daily basis. He addresses these topics extensively in his books “ The Change”, "The Change Perspective" and “How Change Works”.

If you want to read more about Trust, read "the 5 frustrations of teamwork" by Lencioni and "The speed of trust" by Covey


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