CEO of PeopleProductive and former CIO, Frank Wander, writes that trust, transparency, and teamwork are the most important success factors in the age of disruption.

We are living in an age of disruption: financial crises, political turmoil, social upheaval, the fog of war, epidemics, and uncertainty about the future. Surely, the disruptions are not over. In response, organizations must build high performing cultures to navigate through each crisis and emerge a survivor, perhaps even the winner.

Although technology remains important, disruption makes talent and culture the most valuable tools in today’s business environment. Accordingly, leadership teams must become skilled in the human factors of leadership; they must be able to fully exploit culture as a source of resilience and agility; and, they must be able to continuously measure and improve how effectively they are performing.

Cultural Keys to Success

The three most essential cultural factors are Trust, Transparency, and Teamwork, because they help an organization migrate from individual to collective outcomes, so they can skillfully navigate through each crisis.

Building a cohesive culture begins with trust, for without it, individuals focus on personal survival and advantage. Transparency is a vital precursor and enabler of trust because it makes intentions visible. And, lastly, trust enables teams to form and stay united, so it is best viewed as the social glue that holds teams, organizations and culture together.

Let’s look at how you can use these intrinsic motivators as tools to build a cohesive, motivated, and high performing organization.

Trust can be defined as the outcome of “doing what you say you will do” and “knowing you won’t hurt me.” There are multiple dimensions to trust in organizations, and a detailed description of the three dimensions of trust can be found here.


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Trust happens when:

  • Individuals feel that their leaders and colleagues “have their back.”
  • Bad news is shared, not hidden.
  • Leaders are vulnerable and admit their weaknesses.
  • Employees are treated as intelligent adults instead of slow children.
  • Leadership is actively illuminating the path forward and steering the organization to a prosperous destination.
  • Leaders and individuals act with compassion, knowing people are more than just their jobs.
  • The organization embraces fairness, inclusion, and well-being, creating a workplace that is safe for everyone.
  • Executives embrace the idea that “To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace,” wisdom that is credited to Campbell Soup’s highly successful CEO, Doug Conant.

Transparency can be defined as the absence of secrets and the prevalence of truth and fairness. While trust is mostly interpersonal, transparency is a byproduct of your culture.

Transparency happens when:

  • Truth telling is the norm.
  • Leaders have the courage to provide regular, fact-based feedback, even when it is uncomfortable to do so.
  • Work is consistent with the organization’s mission.
  • Intentions are shared and consistently come true.
  • Employees understand how the business operates and how their work fits within the entire flow.
  • Pay equity is provided.
  • Compensation, the third rail of organizations, is fair and linked with outcomes, not politics.
  • Hidden agendas are culturally unacceptable.
  • Individuals who lack transparency feel uncomfortable in the environment and leave, or are forced out.
  • The workplace shuns the corrosive effects of secrecy and secret dealings, because as the Dalai Lama noted, “A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.”

Teamwork is all about collaboration and cooperation. With Trust and Transparency in place, collaborative teams can achieve remarkable results.

Teamwork happens when:

  • No employee is an island.
  • Workers feel a deep sense of belonging.
  • Functional silos are aggressively eliminated.
  • Front-line employees are the primary source of improvement ideas.
  • Workers are included and consulted about decisions that impact their area of responsibility.
  • Cross functional collaboration is routine.
  • People erect bridges instead of walls.
  • Employees understand what other employees do.
  • People at all levels respect one another.
  • People are treated as equals and the equality can be felt.
  • There is a common definition of success.
  • Meetings operate effectively.
  • Workers at every level understand Patrick Lencioni’s observation: “Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”

The research is very clear.  Humans become uncomfortable in a workplace where trust, transparency and teamwork are not the norm. Unlike other elements of high performance, these three cannot be faked. Only sincerity will work because humans are deeply wired for fairness, as are most social organisms. This short Ted Talk video illustrates how deeply this basic human need is wired into our social psyche.

If these human factors are lived at all levels of your organization, you will have a truly high performing culture that has the power to overcome the unexpected as you journey through this age of disruption. Happy travels!

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