It's All About Trust

Charles Seybold writes a project management blog. Apparently the other day he went to an nifty little workshop filled with startup CEOs and they talked about how to build an effective organizational culture. He was struck by how much the conversation focused on tactics. "Things" management did to try to generate happiness, good will, or a strong culture.

He didn't buy it. For him, it's really all about trust:

I just don’t think that stuff matters if you don’t have trust. If people don’t trust each other you’re just bribing them to keep coming back to work. Culture is like mood; it’s temporary and changes easily and it’s just a reflection of the underlying relationships.

I love that. Culture is a reflection of the underlying relationships. If you want a strong, effective culture, those relationships need to be based in trust. If you want to change culture, you need to get at the underlying relationship patterns. That is why you can't dictate culture or really change it by putting up cool posters on the wall. You just can't control relationships, can you? That's why culture and culture change are so elusive. We want it to be mechanical, and it just isn't.

But you absolutely can nurture and build great relationships. Indeed, if you want a truly powerful organization, you must.


  1. 02.07.2009 at 9:14 pm

    Jamie — You’re so right! Before my position in a trade association I worked in the Web world where 70-90 hour work weeks could go on for months at a time. Morale was in the crapper but people kept showing up to work. What was it about that culture that kept people motivated? It wasn’t the leadership, believe it or not. It wasn’t the free pizza or the bonus money. It was the culture of connectivity, of friendship. So many people were friends (some employees were spouses) that they kept showing up because they didn’t want to let their friends down. They didn’t want to be the reason someone else had to do even more work, so they kept coming back. It was the most extraordinary working environment I’ve ever been in.
    That exec is right — it’s not about the “tasks.” It’s not even about the rewards. It’s not about “teamwork” or “winning one for the Gipper.” It’s about commitment to each other, in a culture of friendship and loyalty.
    Was it about trust? Not in the leadership — employees were nearly 100% distrustful of the company president and lacked respect for the decisions he was making.
    But it was about trust in each other — trust that each person was going to continue to contribute what was expected (the programmers would continue to write code; the graphic artists would keep providing stunning images; the developers would keep finding ways to make the code work in various browsers, etc. etc.).
    Yes. A culture of trust can set the stage for amazing things to happen, even when there’s a lot of very, very negative stuff happening around it.
    Thanks, Jamie!