Air Force

June 28, 2013

Improving organizational trust perks results

Lt. Col. JON WHEELER
310th Fighter Squadron Commander

Have you ever looked back at all the organizations you’ve been a part of and evaluated what makes an organization great? There is one characteristic that underlies every successful organization I have ever been a part of — trust. Organizational trust is a great characteristic for unit leadership and members to focus on improving in order to advance unit performance. It deserves this focus because trust directly contributes to organizational efficiency, can be improved and can be assessed.

Trust is vital to the output of an organization. When trust is high in an organization, the unit can get things done quickly. Think about how much faster a unit can produce results when layers of oversight are reduced. How much more could supervisors do if they didn’t have to cross-check every detail accomplished by the Airmen working for them? Additionally, when the people in the organization trust their leaders, they’re more likely to value mission accomplishment. Trust amplifies the processes, techniques and technologies that get results. On the contrary, lack of trust imposes a great tax on an organization. That tax takes the form of increased time and cost to get things done. Real trust based on assessments of the situation, personnel and experience can pay huge dividends.

Since trust amplifies organizational productivity or lack of productivity, organizations should seek to improve it. One of the great things about trust is it is something you can change. Although it is exponentially faster to lose trust than gain it, you can make it better. In Stephen Covey’s book, “The Speed of Trust,” he explains 13 behaviors that can increase trust. These are practical things that every member of a unit can work on to improve trust in themselves, their relationships and their organization. For example, one of these behaviors is to create transparency. This tip encourages us to be open and err on the side of disclosure. When we reveal agendas and mistakes in a timely manner, others learn to trust our intentions and don’t feel the need to keep constant oversight.

Another behavior key to improving trust is keeping commitments. Simply put, this is making sure we do what we say we are going to do. This behavior involves keeping commitments to ourselves, our coworkers and our customers (those outside our organization). If we concentrate on tracking commitments and honoring them, we can improve trust at all levels.

In addition to being improvable, trust is something leaders and Airmen can measure through direct feedback, observation and survey. The formal feedback session is a great place to get a sense of how much trust subordinates have in leadership and the unit. The person receiving feedback can also use this opportunity to assess how well they have established themselves as worthy of trust and what they can do to improve. Members can also use informal feedback to achieve these same goals through daily interaction. In addition to feedback, one of the easiest ways to assess organizational trust is to watch the unit in action. If you look at the processes and interactions, you can get a very clear sense of whether organizational trust is high … you just have to look for it. Finally, there are effective tools that commanders can use such as confidential surveys which will anonymously give some insight into the level of trust in the organization.

In the age of “do more with less,” units need to work efficiently to be effective. If an organization focuses on assessing and improving individual, relational and organizational trust, unit efficiency will improve.

In October 2012, Brig. Gen. Mike Rothstein recommended the book “The Speed of Trust” to all the commanders in the wing. If you’re interested in improving this attribute in yourself and your unit, I recommend you read the book and draw from it your own lessons.




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