Trust increases when people feel a sense of connection to one another. Strength of connection and trust develop over the time. This happens as people interact and get to know one another increasing each person’s credibility and reliability in the eyes of the other, and as intimacy develops. Several studies support that this connection that develops trust is the most or among the most significant factors affecting the performance of organizations.
Parker Palmer, the Quaker writer and educational thought leader, told me about the book entitled Trust in Schools by Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider. Bryk and Schneider found that far and away the most powerful factor affecting school improvement during the 1990’s in Chicago was “relational trust.” Money, governance, curriculum, etc. were nowhere close to affecting educational outcomes as compared to relational trust (Tony Bryk is now the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning.)
I learned about two additional studies related to connection and trust from the writings of Dov Seidman, the founder and CEO of LRN. In 2003, Jeffrey Dyer and Wujin Chu studied buyer-supplier relationships among eight major automakers in Japan, Korea and the U.S. The least trusted buyers had procurement costs that were 5X of those of the most trusted buyers and they were the least profitable. The research also found the companies in the study that trusted each other were more likely to share valuable knowledge such as new product designs.
Another study Dov has written about was conducted by the University of Michigan’s hospital system. The hospital system revised its medical malpractice policy from “denying and defending” most claims to sitting down with plaintiffs and their lawyers to discuss the claims prior to taking any formal legal action. In many meetings doctors apologized for any harm their professional actions caused. The hospital continued to defend physicians whose actions met professional standards but in those that were less clear they quickly settled. The results caught everyone by surprise. In the first seven years following the hospital system’s changed approach, malpractice claims and litigation costs dropped by more than half.
Several recent articles appearing in The New York Times also support the power of relationships to help us thrive. In The “Talents of a Middle-Aged Brain” we learn that social connection and relationships are good for brain health. In “The Limits of Policy,” David Brooks advises that it would be wise for government leaders to “try to use policy to strengthen relationships. The best policies, like good preschool and military service, fortify emotional bonds.” Finally, in “When the Ties That Bind Unravel,” we learn about the “silent epidemic” of disconnected parents and their adult children.
The bottom line is that when it comes to human beings and organizations, trust and connection = life and flourishing whereas distrust and relational isolation = death and dysfunction. In light of the importance of trust and connection, each of us should consider how connected we are to our families, friends and colleagues at work. Our success and life depend on how we answer this critical question and respond if we are lacking connection in our lives.