Trust with care

Cosmin Alexandru, Change & Organizational Transformation Partner at Trust2Work by Morphoza explored the importance of trust to boost team performance, with a key focus on Eastern European cultures.

“Over 90% of what we learn about team performance comes from literature, research and case studies of American or English origin. This is a very good thing, but incomplete, when you consider local relevance.”

There are a few significant particularities - here I will only address the single one I find most important. Up until very recently, both practice and research of team performance in the Western culture have been indicating trust as the foundational ground of team performance in a business.

For teams to optimally function in Eastern cultures, trust is just as necessary as in the Western cultures, but not sufficient. We need something more. I remember a foreign client with extensive operations in Romania, a few thousand employees, who aimed at an ambitious process of organizational transformation. Usually, in a project of that volume, I talk to people from all levels of the organization, in interviews and focus groups. Here, when I asked the people “what displeases you the most about what you see or hear from the colleagues around you?”, the answer was the upsetting frequency with which so many employees were saying “it’s none of my business”.

Several things were left undone, unfixed, or even unnoticed, because more and more employees considered that was not their business to deal with. This obviously affected everyone’s performance.

I generally resist the temptation to rapidly jump to the conclusion that the problem is where one can see it. As I explored the subject in greater depth, I found that many employees perceived that the organization treated them in a transactional manner, as expendable resources, and they couldn’t see any reason why they should care about an organization which didn’t care about them.

Eastern cultures are, generally, collectivistic cultures, which greatly value the intensity of the relationships between people. Here, for an employee to give their best in a team, trust must be doubled by care – the feeling that others care about them as a human being, before caring about them as a human resource. This, in turn, makes them care, and makes everything around them also become “their business“. I still remember the number of raised eyebrows around the room where I presented the conclusions of the report in front of the foreign managers, when I told them that if they wanted to improve performance in their organization in Romania, they needed to improve relationships.

But the problem becomes more complicated in practice, when it comes to maintaining a proper balance between trust and care in a team. This is because, counterintuitively, they are often mutually exclusive.

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