Trust in the Workspace


If you’ve ever been part of a “fire drill” (actual fire or otherwise), then you know how important it is to trust the instructions given to you by firemen. You don’t think or question, you just do what the fireman tells you.

This is the kind of trust Ibrahim is talking about when he discusses trust during major incidents in the oil industry.It is the kind of trust that is created from a situation where you don’t have time to sit down and talk to the fireman about how many fires he’s fought, how long he’s been in the field, what theories he’s learned, what he knows about the architecture of the building, and how he got his badge. It’s a similar environment to that presented by Jones and Mahon, which I’ve mentioned earlier. Ibrahim states that the trust formed in these situations is “counterintuitive” because it is the inverse of how we normally build trust. Typically trust comes after working together over a long period of time, after having shared information and having that information validated; these situations where formal structures of information sharing are limited or nonexistent, trust is built in a matter of moments.

But what about those formal structures? Getting away from the fire drills, knowledge sharing and trust happen in every day work environments too. We aren’t all out on oil rigs in the middle of the ocean; we also work in offices and in stores, or even from our homes. In less dangerous environments, trust is slower to build and is just as important. Lucas states that “for employees to adopt new ways of doing things, they must have confidence in the information provided about the new practices,” (p. 88). While he discusses the transfer of best practices, my mind can’t help but jump to change management. If you have a change occurring in a business – big or small – the best way to handle that change is through clear communication. Rumors and gossip can only hurt change, as then employees no longer know what is true and what is not.

How does an employee have confidence in the information provided? Lucas says it “can only result if those adopting the new practice have reason to believe in the accuracy of the information being given to them” (p. 88). So it’s that trust thing. Do I trust that you’ve tested this change as much as you are able, that you’ve taken my role into account, that you know how you’re affecting my job and made reasonable allowances? Do I trust that this change is for the best, and not just a patch for “someone special”? The larger the organization is, the harder it is to make changes of a significant scale.

As Bissett tells us, organizations are attempting to diversify their employees. Despite the irony of profiling employees to show an organization doesn’t profile, diversity brings other complications to change. For example, diversifying how people work (working from home, working in the office, working in the field, working in remote offices, etc.) means there needs to be a way to reach all the employees and give them information about the change they can trust. Because their locations are so diverse, it may be impractical (or even impossible) to do a face-to-face meeting. And those who work in a non-traditional manner may still ask the questions “Did they think about my role?” and “Can I still work in a non-traditional manner after this change is rolled out?”

Words: 580


Bissett, N. (2004). Diversity writ large – Forging the link between diverse people and diverse organisational possibilities. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 17(3), 315–325. doi:10.1108/09534810410538360

Ibrahim, N. H., & Allen, D. (2012). Information sharing and trust during major incidents: Findings from the oil industry. Journal of the American Society of Information Science and Technology, 63(10), 19161928. doi:10.1002/asi.22676

Jones, N. B. & Mahon, J. F. (2012) Nimble knowledge transfer in high velocity/turbulent environments. Journal of Knowledge Management, 16(5), 774788. doi:10.1108/13673271211262808

Lucas, L. M. (2005). The impact of trust and reputation on the transfer of best practices. Journal of Knowledge Management, 9(4), 87101. doi:10.1108/13673270510610350


5 thoughts on “Trust in the Workspace

  1. I like thinking about the applications of Ibrahim’s work with respect to the classroom and the presence of trust between instructors and students. Education, after all, is also a formal structure and has its own hierarchies. But, trust is not as easily given as it is to those in uniforms. It’s an interesting counterexample.


  2. So would you say that social relationships and reactions to crisis can be a result of social conditioning? You gave the example of the fireman, but our response to fireman and vacating a burning building now is different than it was perhaps before automobiles or social conditioning as children.


  3. Your fire drill analogy made me think of the police. We should have an inherent trust (like you mentioned) with the police but because of the organizations’ (i.e.: the police forces) bad reputation as of late, it’s not as instinctual as it should be. I wonder what they can do to start building trust. I know they’re starting but I wonder how far it will get them?


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