Can We Gamify Trust Building in Workplace Culture?

 

Trust is not just about spending time with staff. Building trust in a workspace requires more than time for coffee chats, team building activities, and Zoom happy hours. In fact these events can add to mistrust. A culture that is in a state of survival will only amplify mistrust by using these activities to stick within their own tribes.

Recently I participated in a conversation on strategies that support trust in remote work settings. Some of the ideas included creating a game/challenge that encourage staff connection and kindness, incorporating coffee buddies or teams that rotated monthly, or creating Friday Zoom Happy Hours.  While these ideas are great for supporting staff connection and community, I wasn’t sure what it had to do with trust.

Daryl Stickel has done his dissertation studying trust building in hostile work environments. In his work he focuses on the two things required to build trust.

The two key trust questions when someone is deciding whether or not to trust someone is, ‘how likely are they to harm me? (perceived uncertainty) and two, ‘If they do, how much will it hurt?(perceived vulnerability) Stickel defines trust as, ‘the willingness to make yourself vulnerable to another party when you could choose to do otherwise and when you cannot be certain they will act in your best interests’. According to Stickel, this is key in building trust.

Our work cultures are driven by either spoken or unspoken rules that protect vulnerabilities at all costs. Building trust is going to go in the opposite direction of our desire to be certain and our desire to be protected. Especially in an uncertain Covid world, this desire for certainty and protection of vulnerability is even more amplified.

Trust is not just about spending time with staff. Building trust in a workspace requires more than time for coffee chats, team building activities, and Zoom happy hours. In fact these events can add to mistrust. A culture that is in a state of survival will only amplify mistrust by using these activities to stick within their own tribes.

Trust requires that we do the hard work of creating safe spaces for difficult conversations. It means we train staff to have hard conversations. It means we train staff to listen to hard conversations and we build the skill sets and open up spaces where practice can occur.

So how do we take the first step? How do we choose to be vulnerable even when we are uncertain about what others will do with this information?

  1. Make the definition of trust public. Emphasize the importance of being aware of workplace vulnerability, personal vulnerability and how it affects the workplace. Put it out in the open and acknowledge that every single member of the workplace community requires the practice of “making yourself vulnerable to another party when you can choose to do otherwise“. Insist all staff receive this training.
  2. Provide opportunities for practice. What does making yourself vulnerable to another party look like in your workplace? What conditions are required in order to bring ease to the art of vulnerability? How can we reward ‘making yourself vulnerable when you cannot be certain the other party will act in your best interests’? What can the workplace culture make public that would help everyone work with trust?
  3. Practice listening and speaking to hard conversations. How can we build some safety and some certainty around having staff members challenge others in lack of trust? How do we build trust capacity for those who we mistrust the most? And how do we empower the workplace community to hold everyone including themselves accountable? These skills require practice and rehearsal that is repeated and consistent. Invest in practice.
  4. Have the paired coffee meetings with intention. When there are specific meetups, use the time to help staff work through trust-based communication practice. Have your encounters be intentional.
  5. The response must be universal. None of this will make a difference if the leaders, the CEOs, the managers, the drivers of the organization don’t buy in. They engage in the training. They engage in the practice and they engage in the staff communication practice.

Trust building in organizations is work and it is often the opposite work of implied or overt company culture. Gamifying or Friday happy hours won’t do the real work of trust building.