It’s an absolute truism that shifting a corporate culture in any significant way is one of the most difficult tasks for any organization to undertake. And that’s more than a little counter-intuitive. The extent to which we think of our culture in terms of fuzzy warm feelings or casual Friday blue jeans or even after-work cocktails with colleagues belies its central importance. Culture can’t be mandated from the top down, nor can it percolate from the bottom up. A change in culture can only occur when there is a deliberate effort undertaken to engage in the hard work of changing the perspectives around how we choose to relate to one another org-wide.
The only way to build a trust environment as a central component of a collaborative corporate culture is to encourage vulnerability. Being vulnerable is tough—it goes against human nature and the desire to shield our perceived inadequacies from each other. And that’s just normal human behavior outside of the workplace in our personal lives. Getting vulnerable in the workplace is even tougher. Why is it so difficult? It’s simple really. We fear judgment.
Vulnerability Impacts Innovation
We’ve all probably had traumatic experiences where our vulnerability was met with judgment. When that happens, it stifles creative experimentation and healthy risk-taking behaviors and also slams the door shut on any potential innovative spirit. The first step toward breaking the cycle of judgment culture and moving into a trust culture requires that everyone has explicit permission to be vulnerable without fearing criticism or risking the appearance of weakness. Getting teams to actively exercise vulnerability will build a component of empathy into your organization. And you may be surprised by how much innovation will blossom as a result.
When a team moves toward empathy, it moves away from the blame game. And that’s important. The blame game is a time and energy suck because it requires time and energy to maintain defenses against blame. But a vulnerable team will communicate openly and focus their collective resources on finding solutions. So the vulnerable team becomes a collaborative team. And the collaborative team operates proactively rather than reactively. If the assignation of blame is predominant in your culture, your teams are probably operating in a reactive mode. But building a trust environment through vulnerability and mutual empathy can shift your teams into a proactive, blame-free and collaborative culture.