Build T.R.U.S.T to Create a Climate of Community

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

John Donne, No Man is an Island. John Donne (1572-1631) was an English poet, satirist, lawyer, and cleric. He is among the pre-eminent representatives of the metaphysical poets.

Build TRUST 2014-01-28

In our global and interconnected world, most of us need to be “part of the main”. There is an ever-increasing need to work collaboratively with people from different departments (see Bryan Strayer’s blog Walk a Mile in My Shoes), from both inside and outside the company (see Irene Hayes’ blog Transforming Stumbling Blocks to Stepping Stones), and from different cultures. As we wrap up our sequence on work unit climate (i.e. the collective feelings and expectations influenced by relations between members and/or other teams), we see that building trust and establishing community are key factors to equip, enable, and empower employees (see Sandy Schwan’s blog Climate and Change) and to achieve higher performance levels.

Early in my career, I worked with an office that teemed with energy. Clients were happy and the office was growing. In this highly productive office, the employees were passionate about their work and helped each other figure out creative solutions. Leadership was committed to the success of the office and the individuals, building a community where all would thrive. Employees felt empowered to help their clients and to grow their careers. As I think back on how to replicate the secret sauce of that office, a few factors stand out, all relating to people:

  • Leaders created an environment of trust where questions and debate were encouraged.
  • Recognition opportunities included immediate accolades, quarterly awards, and annual events.
  • Employees understood and embraced the business model.
  • Sharing knowledge, such as through mentoring relationships and brown-bag lunches, was a key value.

Now, as globalization increases, there is an even greater need to find creative ways to bring people together in a virtual environment, often through the use of technology, such as email, online directories, and knowledge repositories. Enterprise social networks can bring social media into the organization and create the same opportunity to share and challenge ideas that many find on public domains such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

However, technology is not a panacea. Without the right work unit climate, technology can prolong information silos rather than dismantle them. In this and previous blogs, we’ve seen how leadership must be intentional about building a collaborative work unit climate. The underlying factors we find from these examples emphasize the need for establishing solid relationships, for being enticed off of our individual islands and for ‘entering the main.’

Trust and unity can also be built in a global organization. The latest issue of the Harvard Business Review describes the “helping culture” of IDEO, a design and innovation consultancy (Amabile, Fisher, Pillemer: IDEO’s Culture of Helping, Harvard Business Review, January-February 2014, p. 54-61). The researchers mapped networks at IDEO and discovered a broadly interconnected group of people. When IDEO employees were asked to rate those who helped them on the basis of competence, trust, and accessibility, the research showed that trust and accessibility rated higher than competence. Certainly competence was important; but, in determining who to ask for help, the need to feel safe asking questions and the need to find someone willing to help drove the actual selection.

IDEO’s work unit climate of helping is technologically supported (primarily) by email and videoconferencing. However it is the firm’s relational emphasis that produces its best work for clients. Leadership builds in slack time for employees to help others, modeling helpfulness over competition so everyone does better.

This answers the question of why employees at IDEO are willing to help each other.  They help because they feel a sense of community: they work in a climate that emphasizes collaboration over competition, they gain satisfaction from helping others, and they value different perspectives. They realize that their contributions are magnified by working together, rather than on their own island.


Actions: Build trust to create a climate of community.

As leaders, you can also build community to enhance the work unit climate of your organization. Start with trust as the foundation of your actions.


  • As a leader, how often do you steer your team using inquiry (asking questions) rather than instruction (giving direction)?
  • Move beyond ‘a pat on the back’ as recognition. What other opportunities can you set for your members to share their success story and process with the group?
  • How can you utilize the organization’s I.T. systems and infrastructure to exchange ideas between business units?

T = Trust. Build trust by encouraging questions, creating a sense of belonging, and treating employees fairly.

R = Recognition. Offer recognition opportunities. These don’t have to be monetary rewards; in many cases, intangible recognition that demonstrates appreciation can be more meaningful.

U = Understanding. Foster understanding across business units  and of the organization as a whole.

S = Sharing. Stimulate sharing of knowledge and encourage employees to be accessible and open to requests.

T = Tools. Provide tools that help facilitate connections, ranging from e-mail and videoconferencing to enterprise social networking exchanges, depending on your company’s appetite for facilitating relationships with technology.

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Allison Youngblood

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