Trust Is the Antidote to Corporate Politics.Oct 05, 2022
I hate corporate politics. I don’t hate many things, but I do hate corporate politics.
Because I’ve repeatedly seen decent human beings turn into little monsters in the name of “it’s only business” (it never is), “it’s not personal” (it usually is) and “we live in an eat-or-be-eaten- world” (the worst!).
I’ve witnessed talented, wise, and accomplished people act against their personal values and beliefs, just to climb one step further on the corporate ladder. Some have even sacrificed their souls on the altar of power and greed, only to have their spirits crushed when their sacrifices turned out to be as worthless as the promises they had been given.
I have a personal reason for hating it too. Even though I never cared for corporate politics doesn’t mean that I wasn’t a target of it, on multiple occasions. And it sucked.
Ten years ago, I left the corporate world and started my own company Corporate Spring. I set out on a mission to help change how things are done and make the (corporate) world a happier place.
For the last ten years my team and I have helped leaders and teams around the world build thriving, joyful, high-performing cultures. Our approach is captured in the Corporate Spring Model; a well-tested, science-based method with a holistic perspective on human motivation, organizational psychology, and group dynamics. Companies and teams that have implemented this approach has over time achieved significant improvements in employee engagement, wellbeing, innovation, and business performance.
The Corporate Spring model consists of 5 building blocks, and one of the cornerstones of this model is trust.
And trust, as it turns out, is the antidote to corporate politics.
Beware of The Corporate Beast
When we help leaders and teams build high-performing cultures, we typically start with scanning their culture to understand their current reality and then identify the pain points that stop them from performing at their best. More often than not, we end up with identifying variants of the corporate beast; the underlying fears, power games, and corporate politics that consciously, or unconsciously, shape how things are done. And it isn't always pretty.
The level of politics in a company is influenced by everyone in it and how many that sign up to play the game. The ultimate responsibility, however, lies with leadership; what they say, what they do, what they value and incentivize, and what kind of mindsets and behaviors they role model on a day-to-day basis.
It also has a lot to do with what leaders don't do. Corporate culture tends to be shaped by the worst kind of behaviors that leadership tolerates. When the ones with the biggest egos, the sharpest elbows, and the greatest talents for lip service and politics are allowed to play their games, or worse; get rewarded and promoted because of it, others will start mirroring the same kind of behaviors. And the corporate beast has won.
When talking with leaders, I’m often struck by how unaware many are about their own influence on their company culture. Some are shocked when they realize that the beast that they are trying to tame in fact is a creation of their own, and that the answer isn’t to point finger to the people they lead and make them change, but to take a deep look in the mirror and ask how they themselves need to change.
Psychological Safety and Trust
Work cultures free from corporate politics are recognized by high levels of psychological safety and trust.
Amy Edmondson, professor at Harvard University and author of the book The Fearless Organization defines psychological safety as the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.
Stephen M. R. Covey writes in his book The Speed of Trust that trust is the single most critical component of a successful leader and organization. He states that trust is the new currency in our interdependent, collaborative world, and that it is also the most overlooked, misunderstood, and underutilized asset to enable performance.
Research by Center of Neuroeconomic studies106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, and 29% more life satisfaction, compared to low-trust companies.
A Watson Wyatt study showed that high-trust companies outperformed low-trust companies with 286 percent!
Where there is trust, teams can pour all their energy into their work, collaborate effectively, move quickly, take risks, learn from mistakes, innovate, and perform at levels low-trust companies only can dream about.
Trust is not created overnight. The saying that trust is hard to build and easy to destroy is right. But considering all the benefits, making a deliberate effort in building a high-trust culture might be one of the best investments you can make.
Here are some things you can do:
10 Ways to Build a High-Trust Team Culture
1. Have a shared purpose
If you haven’t yet, make sure to create a meaningful and inspiring purpose for your team. People who know why they show up in the morning and have a shared purpose or mission that they can rally around, experience stronger bonds and greater levels of trust than those who just show up for the paycheck.
2. Define your values
Define your team or company values together with your team. Or, if you have them already, make sure to keep them alive through stories and daily actions. Shared values and beliefs, when done right, guide team behaviors, shape culture, and ultimately becomes your team identity. A strong identity creates a sense of belonging and greater levels of trust.
3. Humanize work
Be human, less formal, avoid corporate speak. Think of your team members as human beings, not "human resources". Socialize outside work sometimes, learn about each other as people, not only colleagues. When we show up as our natural selves, outside our professional work roles, we typically create more relaxed and trusting relationships.
4. Share mistakes, aka learnings.
Create a safe space where mistakes and learning are freely shared and even celebrated. Those who never make mistakes have never tried anything new. When mistakes are seen as learnings, and failures are considered innovation and growth, people are comfortable with sharing their mistakes with others, so everyone can learn and grow.
Share as much as you can as often as you can. If there’s something you can’t share, explain why. People who feel you are hiding something may make up stories instead. The better informed, the safer people feel. The more transparent you are, the more people will trust you and the information they receive.
Don’t pretend that you’ve got it all figured out because no one has. Dare to be personal and honest about your vulnerabilities and shortcomings. Say “I don’t know”, “I find this difficult” or “Help me” when that’s how you feel. Vulnerability is not weakness; it is strength. By being authentic and showing vulnerability, people will only trust your more.
Compassion, empathy and kindness are under-appreciated qualities in the work world. In a world of expectations, achievements, pressure and performance, remember that you're dealing with people, and people have feelings and challenges and ups and downs. Sometimes people just need to be seen, valued and feel supported. Be that person.
Be a Giver not a Taker. Share your time, your knowledge and energy through your generosity of spirit, not because you want something back. Think of how you can help instead of what you can gain. If something is not to your liking, avoid jumping to conclusion. Instead, give people the benefit of doubt. Generosity is trust in action.
Don´t take yourself (or your work) too seriously. Look for the humor in situations, even when things are a bit serious (that’s when you need it the most!). Laughter makes people relax, it increases oxytocin and serotonin in our bloodstream and makes us feel happier, in addition to many other health benefits. Laughter also strengthens relationships, improves collaboration, and builds trust, so there’s no reason to not have fun!
Start doing the things on this list– and never stop. Trust is created through consistent behavior over time. Do what you say you’ll do. And if not, let people know. Trust is fragile, but the more consistent you are, the stronger it gets.
I'm not saying it's easy, but I am saying that it's worth it. Make these 11 points a priority and a high-trust culture may soon become your team's new reality.
Make these 10 points your and your team’s “way of doing things.” After a while you won’t even have to think about it anymore; a high-trust culture has become your new reality.