The Triangle of Trust: Intention, Action, Impact

I believe in a cocreated model of culture, where the action of every individual contributes to the experience of culture. Culture can be viewed as an artefact of behaviour, not simply an expression of intent. Today I want to introduce the Triangle of Trust: this is building out of the Landscape of Trust work and represents how the actions of each individual are influenced by their personal landscape and contribute to the overall experience of trust within the organisation. In effect this model looks at how values sit at the centre of a larger triangle which ranges from my intention, through my actions, and into the impact that we have.

The landscape of trust - personal tool

Values relate to all of these, but are not deterministic. It’s action that counts. My intention is how I intend to impact on a given situation, it has elements of aspiration and is informed by my values, but crucially there is no concrete link. My intention leads to my actions, the ways that I am in the world. Indirectly, my values have influenced my intention, and through to my action, but again, values do not have a concrete link to action.

The Landscape of Trust - Triangle of Trust

There are plenty of cases where action can diverge from values. My impact is the way I land in the world, the way my actions are perceived. My actions lead directly to my impact, but the link between my values and my impact may be pretty loose, influenced by all sorts of external factors. This dilution effect informs in large part how cultures fail: collections of people who all, individually, hold values, have intention, but through actions generate impact within an imperfect world, actions which often degrade the coherence of the overall culture.

The Landscape of Trust - Triangle of Trust

Let’s wind back a step to put a frame around this and consider foundation, expression, and experience. The foundation is about my own landscape of trust: the ways that I feel trust is built and spent, earned or squandered. Expression is therefore about the ways that I act, an experience delivers my impact on the overall culture, my actions interacting with the actions of those around me and co-creating the lived culture. If we wrap these two elements together, we get the Triangle of Trust.

Landscape of Trust - Triangle of Trust

If we look a little deeper at the relationship between the four components we can see how each informs or is informed by the other: my values certainly inform my intention, and my actions may reflect my values. My values should be visible in my impact. And yet what we typically see as we move from intention, through to actions, and resulting impact, values are lost, corrupted, or compromised. The premise is that one component of this is trust, and that we can use this framework to consider how trust is built or lost.

In this context, the Triangle of Trust becomes a developmental framework both for every individual, and for the organisation as a whole, as it looks at what to do to strengthen its own Landscape of Trust.

The Landscape of Trust - Triangle of Trust

We can walk through the Triangle into more detail. My intention is framed by my own foundations and the expression of my values. Intention is therefore directly impacted by my own landscape of trust, even if we measure that impact to the conscious decision to set aside those things which I know to be true and right. It’s the nature of compromise that I may set out with an intention that lies counter to that which I hold in my core values, although this type of intentional pragmatism can be a root cause of cultural failure, being inauthentic in nature. In the Social Age, our intention can be framed in one of a number of spaces, and powered through a number of different types of power: our personal power, hierarchical power, or networked power.

Landscape of Trust - Triangle of Trust

My actions are framed by the expression of my intention and experience of the action. Naturally, it’s at the stage of action that we have greatest impact on trust, both individual trust, and organisational trust. Currently I’m viewing these two things separately, as early results for the prototype questions around the Landscape of Trust indicate some different perception between those two types of trust. Indeed, 75% of people from the preliminary survey agree that the type of trust held between two individuals is different from that held between the individual and the organisation.

The landscape of trust - mistrust

Yesterday I introduced a new way of illustrating trust and mistrust, exploring how we can view these as two separate things. The premise is that we can have trust or an absence of trust, and we can have mistrust, or an absence of mistrust: crucially, within an overall culture, both can be concurrent. I may have trust in parts of the culture, or with individuals within it, whilst having mistrust in other aspects of the organisation, including, notably, the technology, because trust can be invested in individuals, communities of individuals, or anthropomorphised elements of the organisation such as technology or spaces.

When we sit within the square reflects the type of culture we are creating: if we have trust and no mistrust, we are winning, exhibiting an invested culture. If we have mistrust, and no trust, the culture is dysfunctional. Most at risk is where we have both trust and mistrust: this gives us the functional trust that I’ve written about earlier. Functional trust is a foundation, but you cannot build the Socially Dynamic organisation on functional trust alone. If we have no trust and no mistrust, we have a foundation to build upon, and for these reasons, this space, the space of taking action, sandwiched between our intentions and our impact, is most important.

It’s in this space that we generate our impact on individual trust and organisational trust, or where we inject mistrust into the system. Crucially, our values may or may not be related to our actions at this point, and most certainly our values are not deterministic. We can deviate from core values for many reasons: deliberate, careless, or accidental. We can even be coerced to deviate from them when we have to balance competing pressures.

Landscape of Trust - Triangle of Trust

My impact sits between the experience of my actions and the foundations of my personal Landscape of Trust. It’s here that the greatest tension occurs: if our actions have deviated from our intention, if our actions are removed from our values, or if external factors have led to an impact which is different from intent, then we can experience a significant disconnect from our foundation.

The ability of an individual to recognise this, and have the ability to do something about it, sits at the heart of our ability to influence culture. The ability of an organisation to read the signs and recognise how culture is built or eroded, and crucially to create conditions whereby it can be fixed, is vital.

The Triangle of Trust provides a framework to look at the relationship between our individual values, our intention, our actions, and the impact that we have within the culture. It allows us to relate this to individual impact on trust and mistrust, and correlates to where the organisation sits within the semiotic square that shows the type of trust within the organisation. In this sense, I hope that the various components start to draw together.

The Landscape of Trust, when complete, will allow us to form a baseline. The square will allow us to look at the taxonomy of trust: where do we sit between no trust and blind trust, how do we build from functional trust to invested trust. And the triangle should allows us to explore individual impact on the overall Landscape of Trust within the organisation.

This is still early stage work, which I’m sharing as i #WorkOutLoud on the ideas.

Landscape of Trust - Triangle of Trust

But the triangle does not work in isolation: you have one, and so do I. We each have our own values and these values are related to our intentions, actions, and impact. So here’s the interesting thing: we may be aligned around values, although that in itself is often an aspiration, but being aligned in values is of little importance if we see the values are not deterministic of intention, action, or impact.

Landscape of Trust - Triangle of Trust

Indeed, I’d argue that its environmental pressures that eroded these things, often pressures of culture itself. It’s already well us feeling comfortably aligned around values, but it’s a false warmth. Only if we are aligned in action and impact are we truly transforming culture.

Landscape of Trust - Triangle of Trust

In this model it is impact that determines culture, not intention, and certainly not core values. Hence, if we wish to impact culture, we must explore how every reaction is formed, the relationship between intention and action, and the factors which cause action to draw away from values. The core challenge within this is that when trust fails, it often fails fast, and with long-term consequence. So even if we manage to keep actions aligned with values for long periods of time, if there are times when we fail in this, it may have a disproportionately negative effect on culture and levels of trust within the organisation.

I’m prototyping the Triangle of Trust in a workshop with 250 people tomorrow, so today’s blog from something of a rehearsal for that. I’ll use the output of that session to iterate and refine the model itself, as I continue this pursuit in the hope of developing both intellectual sound and pragmatically useful framework and tools for developing organisational trust, and hence building stronger cultures. Only by closing the cracks within culture can we remove the implicit permission for toxic behaviours, but that’s a whole other story.


About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
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6 Responses to The Triangle of Trust: Intention, Action, Impact

  1. Pingback: Prototyping the Landscape of Trust | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  2. lenandlar says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I wonder if “how we don’t act” also inform/impact culture? I guess act is used in a generic sense as opposed to concrete / things we do/ action

  3. Pingback: 4 Flavours of Culture: Potential, Fractured, Functional, Invested | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  4. Pingback: Exploring the Triangle of Trust | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  5. Pingback: Illusion of Trust: The Terms and Conditions of Equality | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  6. Pingback: The Landscape of Trust Research Project: Take Part Now! | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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