What is the First Rule of ‘Organisational Trust Building Club’?


Obviously the answer is…

Rule 1. You do not talk about Organisational Trust Building Club. 


Rule 2. You DO NOT talk about Organisational Trust Building Club.

Anyone who remembers the 1999 film, Fight Club, will hopefully understand the reference. If you are wondering what on earth a secret club for bare-chested blokes (having bare knuckle fist fights), has to do with building organisational trust, I’ll try to explain. If you’ve never heard of Fight Club, have a look here.

Why is Trust Important? It’s a bit like askIng why is oxygen important…

Lots of organisations try to develop a working environment where there are high levels of trust. It’s good to trust each other for all sorts of reasons like the emotional wellbeing of the staff; all the way through to increasing sales to your customers.

If you are the sort of person who believes; ‘people are well paid and should just turn up and do their jobs… and stop messing around with this “feelings” nonsense’, have a think about this for a moment. Trust has an impact on the bottom line (what it costs to run your organisation). I wrote about it here in, Low Trust Costs You Money.

If you want some more evidence have a read of this report, ‘Where Has All The Trust Gone?’ by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development). You could also look at this video by one of the authors, Professor Ros Searle, talking about the importance of trust.

Organisational Trust Building Club (OTBC) 10 Point Plan. Many organisations will approach the ‘task’ of building organisational trust in the following way:

  1. Agonise over the concept, ‘do we have a trust issue?’ (option here to enter an infinity loop).
  2. Give some of the clever people at the top of the organisation the task of sorting it out.
  3. Optional extra – involve some people with actual experience or expert knowledge (not mandatory).
  4. Develop a strategy with milestones, targets, deliverables and success criteria.
  5. Write a few things down like, ‘these are our trust values’ (option to put the words on motivational posters around the building) (I’m joking).
  6. Have a communications strategy and ‘road map’.
  7. Engage with the staff (tell them what’s happening).
  8. Embark on the ‘journey to a high trust culture’.
  9. Monitor progress in 50 page monthly reports to the ‘Trust Committee’.
  10. Celebrate Success (optional extra, only necessary if anyone can remember why you started doing it in the first place).

Note: You will see this sort of method applied to almost everything that is linked to ‘culture change’ in many organisations.

I was (kind of) running these ideas past a trusted friend yesterday (@snowded), when he politely pointed out that the chances of success from this approach were zero, and in fact it would probably make things worse.

Dave’s advice was very straightforward:

“you build trust by being trustworthy yourself and trusting others to do things”.

To put a bit of context around that.

  • Writing things down or making ‘pledges’ isn’t going to make people trustworthy – it’s how we actually behave that matters.
  • Communication plans and strategies frequently fail to impress the front line troops – have a look at the ‘Kill Spin’ section (pg 7) in the CIPD report.
  • “When mores are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable”.  A lovely quote from Émile Durkheim, the French Philosopher and Professor of Sociology. Basically if you have to write down ‘mores’, the habits and customs expected from people (like trusting each other), they will be unenforceable – so a pointless exercise.
  • Making the ‘end goal’ explicit, will result in peculiar behaviours such as ‘gaming’ to meet targets like ‘being x% more trustworthy’. So it’s probably best not to talk about it… or Fight Club.

What about the First (and Second) Rule of Fight Club? DO NOT talk about the ‘Organisational Trust Building Club’. There is definitely something in those rules.

If you go to the source of everything cool on the Internet – Reddit/subreddits – (Wikipedia is just too mainstream) there’s a range of discussions about why Fight Club has the ‘DO NOT TALK’ rules. These cover the following spectrum:

  • Don’t talk because you don’t want others finding out about an illegal activity (the obvious answer).
  • Don’t talk because people really struggle to keep secrets and will find ways to talk about it. This is a kind of reverse psychology that creates a bit of kudos and momentum around the activity, which actually helps it to flourish. Clever!

So, definitely engage on a quest to improve organisational trust. Do this by actually doing trustworthy things and trusting others, and not writing out strategies and plans. And remember two important rules, DO NOT talk about OTBC, (Organisational Trust Building Club).

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. Trust is an important part of how an effective organisation works. Low trust also costs money and resources.
  2. Trust isn’t built through strategies and plans. Trust is built through actions.
  3. You DO NOT talk about OTBC.

Reverse Fight Club and Cross-fit*  I do love this, it’s particularly relevant if you know an obsessively keen ‘cross-fitter’.

The idea is that Cross-fit is like Reverse Fight Club. Instead of NOT talking about it, people just can’t shut up about Cross-fit (apologies if you love cross-fit).

(*Cross-fit is a gym based exercise class)

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here: https://whatsthepont.com/churchill-fellowship/

1 Response

  1. Love it. There is a “culture change board” in my place that has a Gantt chart to plan and monitor progress. I have total confidence that culture will change in line with the agreed dates and quality indicators.

    One TINY flaw in your post though…it’s not Cross-fit it is CrossFit.
    NB I’m talking about CrossFit, as i obsessively talk about CrossFit at the slightest opportunity, like this minor mis-spelling of CrossFit.
    Going to CrossFit tonight at 6pm, highlight of my day.
    But seriously, the CrossFit gym is a brilliant example of an actual BS-free zone of a trust worthy culture. The culture of a CrossFit gym is strikingly real, theres never any second guessing what people REALLY mean, people act it out. It is so refreshing going there after being in work all day, seeing people knowing what should be done, and doing it. For example at the end of each session everybody tidies up, all the weights away, people go round with squirty disinfectant bottles and clothes to clean medicine balls, or brushes to wipe up the sweat marks on the floor. Everybody picks up the weights not just theirs. Its a communal taking up of responsibility, with no expectation of anything other than a clean room and equipment for the next class.
    There’s a good blog post to be written about CrossFit culture and the reality of it as a good example to contrast with the WORLD OF PURE LIES of normal ordinary organisational life.
    Did I mention CrossFit?

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