Trust: The Oil in the Productivity Engine

Neil HartleyPathfinder AssessmentLeave a Comment

hands holding post-it notes stating: Done, Doing and To Do.

My name is Neil and I used to work in Health & Safety.

Not someone with a high visibility vest, hardhat, and clipboard telling people to stop doing something, more of an analyst trying to understand trends, particularly the prevention of injuries and fatalities.

Why does Spain, for example, have more work-related injuries/fatalities per 100,000 workers than, say, Denmark?

Maybe the Danes have more clipboard folks wandering through construction sites telling people what to do than the Spanish?

Looking for the underlying causes of such realities led me to The Peltzman Effect – the safer you make things appear (i.e. the more rules you have) then the riskier people’s behavior. Which is counterintuitive until you think about it. The safer it looks, there appears to be less need to watch for danger.

It also brought me to the concept of emergent behavior and Dekker’s Safety Differently (that’s Sidney Dekker, not Desmond) where people are the solution who, in the absence of rules, will behave more safely.

As an illustration of emergent behaviour in road safety, here are the words of Sidney Dekker:

“Imagine a space a space in which there’s no rules.

“A space in which people can themselves determine the best course of action.

“A space in which people spontaneously negotiate and collaborate in order to create the safest outcomes for everyone in this space.

“A new type of humanity emerges. Nobody is telling them. They figure it out on the spot. We call this emergent behaviour.

“It started out with a normal traffic management system with lights and signs and barriers and lines, and all of that led to a huge gridlock every day and about 10 pretty bad accidents every year. So, a traffic engineer came in and said, “Let’s take everything out,” and in this square people now enter and they cannot not be engaged in their own safety and it’s interesting that you make things look riskier you actually get safer behaviour.”

It wasn’t tough then to see that countries with the greatest bureaucracy (number of rules) around health and safety had the worst outcomes in terms of injuries/fatalities.

But why do some countries have more rules than others?


Or, lack of it.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development monitor societal trust by country. Trust in each other, trust in government etc. Here’s a snapshot I created from the data:

OECD showing societal trust in varying institutions by country

For our US readers, and looking only at ‘trust in others’ the US ranks somewhere between the UK and Germany on this chart.

What I found was that those countries with the lowest levels of societal trust had the greatest number of safety regulations and the worst injury/fatality outcomes.

Fast forward to today. While trust is an important component in every workplace, it is critical  in self-managed organizations. Self-managed organizations are workplaces without hierarchy and without playbooks telling you what to do and when.

Frederic Laloux described trust in self-managed organizations as follows:


  • We relate to one another with an assumption of positive intent.
  • Until we are proven wrong, trusting co-workers is our default means of engagement.
  • Freedom and accountability are two sides of the same coin.

At Teal Around The World in 2023 (TEAL organisations are defined by the following three ideas: self-management, wholeness and evolutionary purpose), “trust” was an ever-present in presentations and related discussions. The fulcrum of discussion was, “can we be trusted to do what we say we will do?” This is more about something we call “consistency” rather than a reflection of whether it’s safe to leave our beloved pen on the desk at lunch.

Given that more specific description of “trust”, might the OECD data indicate in which countries self-managed organizations are most likely to flourish? If we use “trust in others” as the metric, should we expect to see more self-managed organizations in Denmark than France?

It’s an interesting question. Is there a greater proportion of self-managed organizations in Denmark than Spain? Are they really more successful in Denmark than Spain?

The analyst in me wants to find out. Please let me know what your experiences have been in the comments below.

While we get your feedback, here are three tips to improve trust in the workplace, plus one shortcut.

  • Clear Communication: Establish open lines of communication where expectations and project goals are clearly defined. Regular updates and transparent discussions about changes and decisions foster a predictable and reliable environment, enhancing trust among team members.
  • Recognition and Accountability: Consistently recognize and reward employees who reliably meet or exceed their commitments. Simultaneously, implement fair and transparent accountability measures for when commitments aren’t met. This approach not only promotes consistency but also demonstrates that reliability is valued and expected.
  • Leadership by Example: Leaders should model the behavior they expect from their team. By consistently fulfilling their own commitments and openly addressing challenges, leaders set a powerful example of reliability and trustworthiness, encouraging similar behavior throughout the organization.

Those are the tips, here is your shortcut—find Pathfinders for your organization.

Pathfinders are those folks who do what they say regardless of the circumstances. They  innovate when faced with opportunities and challenges. They are the exact profile of person who will thrive within the self-management paradigm. One of their attributes (that we coded for and subsequently measure in our Pathfinder assessment) is “consistency”.

If you’re looking to hire into a self-managed organization, our Pathfinder assessment will let you know which candidates will flourish and which will flounder.

Equally, if you’re looking to transform from a traditional hierarchical structure into a self-managed structure, the Pathfinder assessment will identify those with the strongest Pathfinder attributes and who, therefore, may be candidates to lead part of the transformation.

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