The Organizational Trust Index™ as a Window into Organizational Culture

Trust is the foundation of all human interactions, and the cornerstone upon which high-performing organizational cultures are built. The Organizational Trust Index™ was developed by the Breckenridge Institute® as a method for measuring the level of trust in an organization and the degree to which an organization’s culture is either motivated by trust or driven by fear. Managers have two choices. They can either consciously build organizational trust, or they can allow day-to-day issues, ineffective communication, and misperception to erode trust and develop a fear-based culture. The six perspectives of the Organizational Trust Index™ can help managers evaluate the level of trust in their organization, determine the degree to which their culture is either motivated by trust or driven by fear, and provide a step-by-step process for building a culture that is based on trust.

Trust is often thought of in terms of individual people and one-on-one relationships, for example we trust our co-workers, direct reports, or our boss. But organizational trust means that we trust the organizational structures, systems, and culture within which we work. Unlike trusting individuals, the interdependent actions and interactions of structures, systems, and culture can reach a level of combinatorial complexity where the “system” takes on a life of its own and almost no one can change it. As one manager remarked to a direct report’s request for more resources to better serve customers, “I know you’re disappointed in this decision Jane, but our system just doesn’t allow us to do what you want.” The degree to which managers or staff members either trust the structures, systems, and culture within which they work, or fear them, is a “window” into the underlying patterns of behavior, belief structure, and tacit assumptions of an organization’s culture. The Organizational Trust Index™ consists of six perspectives: Truth, Integrity, Power, Competency, Teamwork, and Communication.

What managers and staff members believe about how the six perspectives of trust manifest themselves in the day-to-day operations of your organization exists invisibly just below the surface of consciousness. What we believe about the six perspectives can be made visible by repetitively asking the question “why” in the face of organizational issues. For example, “Why do the managers consistently fail to share information, so the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, even though they know that it negatively affects the overall performance of the organization?” The answer might be that managers are territorial so they don’t share information easily. The next question might be, “But why are managers territorial and why do they fail to share information even when they know it’s in the best interest of the organization?” Is it because they want to retain their own power? Do they view others as being incompetent to get the job done? Do they have different core values than their coworkers? and so on. The underlying causes and motivations of ineffective organizational performance are often traceable to an interlocking set of beliefs, tacit assumptions, and patterns of human interaction that emerge from the six perspectives of  the Organizational Trust Index™.

Driven by Fear or Motivated by Trust

While some managers believe that fear is a necessary part of achieving goals and objectives, researchers from Abraham Maslow to W. Edwards Deming have warned against the subtle, but profound, effects of management-by-fear (rather than trust) and the devastating affects that fear can have on establishing or maintaining a high-performing organizational culture. Deming argues that fear makes people afraid to share their best ideas; expand their capabilities and skills; admit mistakes; suggest process improvements; question the underlying purpose and reasoning of decisions or procedures; or even to act in the best interest of the company (W. Edwards Deming, Out of Crisis, MIT Press, 1992, pp. 59-62). Managers and staff members fear: a) being the object of real or perceived retribution, b) being passed over for promotion, c) receiving lower performance ratings, d) looking uninformed or like a trouble-maker, e) being assigned to “grunt” work, rather than the more visible projects, and f) being seen as not having sufficient intellectual horsepower to advance beyond one’s current position.

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Next Time: The lead article in the May issue of the Pinnacle will describe, Ten Guidelines for Managers Who Want to Create Culture Change.

HBR Editor’s Blog

Every month, the senior editors of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) invite internationally recognized organizational theorists and practitioners to raise issues and answer questions about leadership and management issues on the HBR Editor’s Blog. This month, we provide Pinnacle readers with links to two important and interesting discussions (see below).

Marshal Goldsmith, How to Exit Leadership the Right Way, “When your successor is ready to lead, you need to be ready to step aside gracefully.”

Steve Prokesch, How to Crack Companies’ Class Structure, “A class-free organization is essential for cross-disciplinary teamwork and problem-solving. Here are for steps leaders can take.”

We encourage you to join the conversation on the HBR Editor’s Blog and voice your opinions, commentary, and insights on these and other important topics.


ICFAI University Press in India will be reprinting Mark Bodnarczuk’s article, “The Building Blocks of Organizational Culture Part 1: Patterns of Interaction” in a book entitled, Organizational Behavior: New Perspectives, in August 2008. The article can be viewed here.
John Anderson has joined the Breckenridge Institute® staff as a senior consultant. John is an electrical engineer with over 30 years experience in circuit, software, and systems design. He has managed the design, production, and installation of large scale data acquisition and display systems and is an expert programmer in languages such as HTML, XML, JavaScript, Pearl, PHP, ASP, and SQL. He has a BSEE degree from the Midwest College of Engineering.
Join us for a two-day BWI™ workshop entitled, Making the Invisible Bureaucracy™ Visible to be held in Boulder, CO on May 22-23, 2008. Contact Elin Larson for details at
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Breckenridge Institute®

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Culture Corner

“Organizational cultures are created in part by leaders, and one of the most decisive functions of leadership is the creation, management, and sometimes even the destruction of culture.”

Edgar Schein


Breckenridge Work-Group Indicator™ (BWI™)

The BWI™ helps make the Invisible Bureaucracy™ of culture visible in work-groups. Effectively leading a work-group takes an enormous amount of time and energy because managers have to maintain a balance between conflicting or competing interests in a complex system of coalitions of small groups who “see” business issues very differently. For example, in a work-group of 20 people, the manager has to keep track of nineteen relationships between themselves and others, plus 171 third-party relationships. The dynamics of third-party relationships change and become even more complex when combined into coalitions of 3s and 4s. Unlike traditional approaches that use individual personality profiles, the revolutionary BWI™ presents a comprehensive 3D evaluation of group-dynamics and barriers to effective communication in work-groups. It gives managers a shorthand way to understand and effectively manage the differences between people at the work-group, small-group, and individual levels.

Because it evaluates work-groups (departments, teams, etc) within the larger context of an organization’s structures, systems, and culture, the BWI™ is typically used by middle managers, front-line supervisors, and team leaders. People who obtain the most value from the BWI™ use it to help them more effectively:

  • Improve work-group performance
  • Define common purpose and goals
  • Improve team climate and morale
  • Build group identity
  • Increase creative problem-solving and manage conflic
  • Coach direct reports within the context of the work-group’s goals

Join us for a two-day BWI™ workshop entitled, Making the Invisible Bureaucracy™ Visible to be held in Boulder, CO on May 22-23, 2008.

Contact Elin Larson at for details.


What We’re Reading

Esther Cameron and Mike Green Making Sense of Change Management

Making Sense of Change Management is an overview of the theoretical models, tools, and techniques of organizational change. The book is advertised as a “complete guide to the models, tools and techniques of organizational change” but it is far from that. Divided into two main sections, the first part of the book describes the underlying theoretical models for individual change, team change, organizational change, and leading change. Part two describes applications including, managing the kind of change that occurs during restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, IT-based process change, and cultural change. The section on cultural change is a little disappointing. They write-off any explanation of what culture is to footnotes, and the focus of the three case studies are more on various aspects of branding than they are about either describing or changing organizational culture. If you’re looking for a broad overview of the principles and practices of change management rather than step-by-step how-to’s, then this book is probably right for you.