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Trust, Teamwork, And Business In The ‘90s

John Castro
President & CEO of Merrill Corporation

September 1994

In by-gone, simpler days, when people knew what was right and what was wrong, trust wasn’t an issue. Everyone knew who the good guys and the bad guys were. But over time, the black and white of right and wrong turned to shades of grey, and now trust has become important at home and at work.

Trust is that sense of security or confidence that you have about another person. My Grandfather used to say, “Don’t trust anyone who won’t look you in the eye.” He lived in the black and white world of morality. I live in the grey. Back in his day, the things you taught your kids at the dinner table were the same standards you held yourself to at work. These days, it gets mushy.

Most parents still tell their kids that stealing is wrong. But many of these same parents will grab a bunch of pencils or pens from the office for their kids to use at school. (Most organizations see a huge jump in office supply expenditures in August.) They don’t mean to be “bad.” It’s just that, over time, the standards have changed. What’s right at home doesn’t necessarily equate with what’s acceptable at work.

The good news is that there are still a lot of good people in the world. Many of them are your co-workers. They would do anything for you. You care about them and have confidence in them.

The bad news is that most of us could also name a few co-workers that we don’t trust. They make us uncomfortable. They say one thing to our face and something else behind our back. We watch what we say whenever we’re around them. We just don’t trust them.

Trust is critical in business, because it can make or break a team, and business can no longer survive without teams. Teamwork used to be something you needed only for special projects. Now, it’s the norm. Potential employees used to be asked about their individual accomplishments in previous jobs. Now organizations want to know if you are a team player and ask about team success stories.

Business needs teamwork to survive, and trust is absolutely essential to teamwork. Where does that leave us? We can’t assume that a group of people who are told to become a team will know how to build the relationships needed to maintain that team. We can’t assume that everyone knows what it takes to build and foster trust.

This doesn’t mean printing a mission statement and posting it around the building. Employees need to have time to sit in a room and discuss trust and teamwork and change. They need to talk about real-life issues at work. It may be uncomfortable at times; it should be. It may even make some people take a hard look at themselves.

We, at Merrill Corporation, like to describe the process of trust, teamwork, and change as a journey. We can’t force employees to take the journey. They have to trust each other and trust that the journey will take them where they want to go.

It’s like getting on a train. Those who lack trust will not get on board. Management’s job is to help employees understand trust is key to their decision and to make sure that everyone who wants a seat on the train gets one.

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