The Powerful Organizational Trust Elixer

It was my second time up a 14er mountain in Colorado. Oxygen was at a premium as I joined my Winning Well partner, David Dye, as he led this mission of mostly first timers up Mt. Democrat. As the self-designated trip photographer, I’d taken some decent shots along the way, including the in-the-dark-before-picture that everyone was counting on.in the dark  So you can image how frustrated I was when I realized that I’d left my camera on the trail  (and all the shots from this trip and the adventure before) somewhere at the midpoint rest stop. Apparently, I’d accidentally exchanged a decent camera and all the memories it included, for a granola bar. David could sense my concern, and looked at me sincerely. “I’m not worried. No one steals a camera… even a left one… on a 14er. There’s an unspoken code.” My inclination was to immediately scramble back down to begin the search. How was he so sure an ad-hoc village of strangers would comply with this “unspoken code?” Another young  hiker overheard our conversation. “I agree. And I’m in. What kind of camera did you lose and where? Text me your number, and I’ll look for it on the way down (we were still on the way up). If I find it I’ll meet you in Denver.”

And So We Continued

Apparently, sometimes the best answer is to trust the culture. As we reached the crest of the mountain I heard the excitement coming from a group of happy hikers who spotted some of my friends who were about 20 yards behind me. “We looked through all the pictures, and clearly you were on the way up, not down, otherwise there would be victory pics. We’ve been watching for your crew the whole way and finally started to see people we recognized.”

What Would It Feel Like To Work in A Truly High-Trust Culture?

When we fear loss, it’s easy to scramble to the next plateau of self-protection. We wonder, why would they help me? Why would they go there? Is there anything here for them to gain? What if we started a new conversation in our teams and organizations? Start where you are. Ask your team.

What would it look like if we had a truly high trust culture?

When I ask teams I work with, this is some of what comes up:

  • When you make a mistake, you know someone will have your back
  • We know everyone’s putting in their very best effort
  • No one wants to steal your stuff or take credit for your work
  • Folks will go the extra mile to help you
  • Good behaviors are rewarded
  • We care about one another as human beings

I’m not sure how the unspoken code on the Colorado 14ers started, but I do know what keeps it going. Hikers know that “people like us” have each other’s backs and don’t steal people’s stuff. How do “people like us” act in your organization. What’s the unspoken code? What do you want it to be? It’s worth the conversation.

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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

6 Comments

  1. Fantastic and uplifting to read this. There should be more positive stories to inspire and lead people to creating a culture of trust! I look forward to reading your book.

  2. Loved this article, Karin! I’ve been in situations where the “unspoken code” is clearly understood by everyone…and yes, there is built-in trust that truly connects everyone.

    “Hikers know that “people like us” have each other’s backs and don’t steal people’s stuff.” Isn’t it strange that you could meet a group of strangers and so quickly build trust with them, and yet work years with the people across the aisle and not trust them at all?

    • LaRae, I so agree. It’s amazing how when the culture is strong… even newcomers work to adopt the positive behaviors. I’ve been working with companies on being more deliberate about their code, and I’m seeing a positive impact. It’s not easy, but I’m seeing some amazing transformation.

  3. I just adored your story and could feel all the anxiety without your camera!

    What an amazing community of hikers to be there for one another and have each other’s backs literally! Trust is definitely the foundation of all of our relationships and organizations. Your points of what could happen in a trusting environment are spot on. I try to model trust so others will see its power.

    Thanks Karin! Miss you!

    • Thanks so much, Terri. I know, I miss you too. We are on such a whrilwind of speaking and consulting for Winning Well. Let’s catch up soon!

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