Imagine that you are driving a dual-lane road in the countryside. As another car approaches you
hardly even notice because you have years of history passing cars travelling at high
speeds. Based on the design of the highway and markings, cars safely pass each other by
maintaining their position on their side of the road, yet they are only a meter apart when they
pass. You have learned to trust the system.
Now consider the effect of encountering a car which has drifted across the centre line of that
same highway. It happens two, three, maybe four times a day on multiple days. Your trust in
the transportation system turns quickly to fear and frustration. The degree of trust or fear
depends heavily upon your cumulative observations and experiences. Systems at work have the
same effect even if the degree of fear and frustration does not rise to the degree of fear caused
by a life-threatening situation like the transportation example. Over time, poorly designed
systems cause employees to feel frustration and stress that does harm people and greatly
reduces the performance of the organization.
I used systems as an example above, but other aspects of direct and indirect interactions in
organizations have similar effects. In the field of organization design, most human interactions
fall into two categories: those that build trust and those that invoke fear, frustration, and/or
stress. Some of our feelings from these interactions come because of direct interaction and
some are indirect through structures, systems, and even observed behaviours. Nevertheless, the
effect is the same and recorded in our brains with cumulative effect. Therefore, direct, and
indirect interactions impact our felt sense of security and commitment in every situation. They
also affect our productivity and even our mental health.
Fortunately, organizational science has advanced to the point of being able to operate with trust-inducing strategies, structures, systems, and behaviours. Its time to learn more about how to
avoid dysfunction and build trust in your organization.