Teams and Trusting Like a Fool

Ryder-Waite Tarot "The Fool"Just when I was supposed to be finishing up these slides for Execs, and instead talking with someone about trust in the context of working relationships, I saw tweets about Lyssa Adkins‘ nice blog post on the same topic: “Is trust earned or granted?

In the article she notices how she gradually granted trust to her toddler and relates this to discoveries working with Tobias Mayer and a client.  One of her discoveries was this line (which does sound like its out of something written by Lao Tzu):

Trust — lead from a place of faith, not suspicion; follow likewise

The conversation piqued my awareness of trust and somehow I started watching how this plays out in my daily interactions. Within the context of two circumstances I made some discoveries.

First, in an hours-long conversation between colleagues on a train, I observed us granting, revoking, and regranting trust over and over, very subtly, as we spoke.  All of this in the quest of understanding what it was that we were trying to say to each other.

In debating differing points of view, one of us would make a point, possibly use an example. Someone else would question the logic or truth of the example, not in a mean way, but in a logical way, but might give the point because they granted trust to the person making the argument.  This might be followed up by the one who was granted trust actually earning it by further explaining and supporting their argument.

Again, this is not in an explicit way, and it isn’t always logical.  Sometimes the granting of trust is purely emotional, that you have confidence that the person you are conversing with means well.

Further on that point, before the train ride I was talking with a colleague about managing people and having confidence – trust – in those we are currently assigned to manage and how in the Agile Future this might all shift.  When do we trust employees to self-correct when they make mistakes?  When do we need to apply the disciplines of teaching, mentoring or coaching? And so on.

We came up with this scale to describe extremes that we might fall between as project managers.  There’s more to be thought through here, but the point is our level of trust might shift depending, not on empirical observation, but rather how we emotionally relate to a colleague, based on where we ourselves fall on the scale below, and where they fall.  We may trust them less if they are not closer to our own spot on this scale.  Again, not a perfect scale, needs refinement, or probably should use Myers-Briggs instead, but here we go, just as a starting point:

Formal-Informal Scale

By the way, in making this scale (and after all of this thinking), I started digging around to look for scientific studies to see what has been revealed in the lab about human trust and personality.  In my digging, I came across many books and papers, less from the world of science, but more from the humanities and the world of social psychology.

Particularly I discovered a social psychologist named Morton Deutsch, thought of as a leading scholar in Conflict Resolution, who did a lot of work studying Cooperation and Competition.  I discovered this interesting site,, that houses summaries of some of the research.

Feel like I opened a can of details because, on further searches, I uncovered that Deutsch was criticized in Europe, mostly, it seems, by Marxists, as taking a very bourgeoisie point of view of society and divorcing that from the means of production and class.  Looking for balance between these two extremes, I finally came across this paper, by Erika Apfelbaum, on the University East London’s website.  I can’t find the page the paper is housed in, just found the paper from a google search (“morton deutsch” “michel plon”).

In the paper she says:

Ultimately, my main interest has been to develop a framework for an integrative social psychology which explores how individuals evolve/construct their lives at the cross roads between their socio-historical and cultural experiences, as well as their sense of personal agency.

(My emphasis).  What this raises for me is a need to examine how neatly this thinking ties back into the sense we have of Free Will and how important this is to the ability for an Agile framework to truly function.  In other words, where do we, as workers, really have the ability to be self-directed? How does our cultural context incline us to be self-directed? and so on.

Zooming in on this particular fractal-like experience (which I’ll admit was a grand way of procrastinating on my Exec Deck 🙂 ), I also found discussions of amicability and trust in surprising places with surprising results. For instance, in the case of Ashely Smith, a hostage who built trust with her captor that saved her life and caused him to turn himself in.  (The Marxists might point out that the captor was actually from the middle class and so the ability to trust was inherent in the context).

Another interesting find was that we have a hormone, Oxytocin, that studies (evidently) have shown can cause us to biochemically feel trust.

Quite the journey down the fractal. Of course mind will come to conclusions about everything that I found.  So much to know.  Where do we “just decide” and not, as my Himalayan friends might point out to me, “Think too much?”

That finally brings me to the image I’ve started this post with, “The Fool.”  We worry about being made “a Fool.”  We sometimes behave like “the Fool” so distracted by our concepts and how beautiful we find the day, that we inadvertently step off a cliff, even though the little dog of our unconscious is barking a warning at us.

Within the context of “Trust” it might be, rather, that like the fool, and lifting our heads and breathing in the clean, sunny air, we travel light with just enough belongings to sling over our shoulders in a small bundle (no “baggage”), we take in the view that we can see from our cliff side, gazing into the endless sky of possibilities.

One Response to “Teams and Trusting Like a Fool”

  1. “We Look to Scientists to Settle Them” « Twingle Says:

    […] Twingle Fractal Thinking About Religion, Leadership and How We Work « Teams and Trusting Like a Fool […]

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