Circles of trust start on the playground and extend to the boardroom. The playground cliques hurt feelings; in the workplace, productivity and creativity are stunted.
The org chart contains boxes representing people conducting important work. A massive cost of time and money is invested filling each box with a name. Justifying the position to the boss, critiquing the job description, recruiting, hiring, and onboarding is needed to fill the rectangle on the chart. The new hire dives-in, ready to help do the necessary heavy lifting and achieve the mission.
Seeds of mistrust are sown among the team members when an organization tolerates a "circle of trust" mentality. The team will struggle to gain access to the circle as us vs. them competitions heat up. As leaders, it is critical to ask; this the business legacy we are striving to build? What benefits do you expect with this methodology?
What hoops does the newbie have to jump through to prove her worthiness and gain access to the circle? Once in, there is always a danger of losing her status; a misspoken word in the morning meeting, quoting the wrong budget answer, wearing the wrong suit, or bravely pitching her edgy idea at the sales meeting. Living on the edge is exhausting.
The line of demarcation may have moved for some, and they found themselves outside the magic ring. This shift is a rude awakening. The rose-colored glasses have been shattered, because you know what happens inside the ring.
I have spent time on both sides of the line, and it is a soul crushing life to lead. On the inside of the circle, there is a need to measure up and to fit into some fuzzy standard. Living on the outside of the unique ring, you are marginalized, and ideas dismissed. Either way, the organization pays a great cost to maintain the defective environment.
The circle continues to tighten, restricting further admittance, encouraging tunnel vision, and groupthink takes hold. Diversity and innovation wait outside ready to contribute. The ego has won. This is not the future that must be chosen.
Going Further: How do you fight the temptation to build closed circles? How have you experienced the circle of trust within organizations and what were the pros/cons of the practice? What is one step you can do today to break open circles that exclude others? How would your organization be different if the circles of trust were opened?