“When a living system is suffering from ill health, the remedy is found by connecting with more of itself.”

Francisco Varela

Recently we’ve been exposed to a barometer on trust, a report on trust,  global conversations about trust, and a meme arising across the spectrum of institutions. Leaders are seeking answers to the questions, “How do we build trust with our employees and customers? With our citizens and communities?”

The conversation continues because it is both important, and because there are no simple solutions. It’s true that we’re suffering from a lack of trust.

No campaign, methodology, program, or strategy can lead to trust because it is inherently relational.  You can’t proclaim, “Trust us” and expect people to follow. (In fact, the opposite normally happens). Trust is an outcome based on experience.

In order to build trust, organizations must focus on the foundations beneath their actions — the relational dynamics — that create experiences throughout their ecosystem. Being in right relationship leads to trust.

Tending the Soil

We know that in order for most plants to grow, sunlight, water, and soil are needed. The farmer cannot manipulate the amount of sunshine, has limited ability to regulate water, but has the most influence over the substance of the soil. The fertility of the soil is where the farmer can most effectively intervene in the growing process.

But organic soil is difficult to manage because it is always changing, and the properties needed vary based on the conditions and varieties of plant life. To tend the soil takes observation, attention, and constant awareness of not only it’s health, but the directionality of it’s changes.

Institutions have spent too much time sowing seeds, irrigating fields, and spraying pesticides, and not enough time tending the soil. Why has the field been neglected? Because it is messy, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. Soil is complex just as relationships are complex.

Assessing Trust

In order to build trust, organizations need to develop awareness of the relational dynamics that exist and shift  throughout their ecosystem. In subsequent posts, we’ll explore pattern languages for building trust.