Queen Bee and the Scepter Of Trust

Posted on 07/05/2015

Have you already heard managers wishing for self-organizing teams and complaining that their teams obviously are not self-organized at all?

Henry Mintzberg describes the best kind of leader is to be like a queen bee… she

„does nothing but make babies and exude a chemical that keeps everything together.“

Too good to be true? Well, not necessarily!

Due to the fact that I very much like the idea of self-organized work I joined the „self-organizing“-session of Jens Coldewey during Kanban Leadership Retreat 2015.

He pointed out four preconditions for creating an environment, which make self-organizing teams able to emerge:

  • Boundaries
  • Alignment
  • Communication
  • Empowerment

So yes, growing self-organizing teams needs to have proper management and leadership in the first place. It definitely won’t work to order „be self-organized“ (no joke, I’ve seen this quite often).

When creating such an environment for people it definitely needs trust. It needs the management to trust the employees and it needs the employees to trust the management. Social psychology talks about trustor and trustee.


Literature shows different definitions for trust but I’d like to stick with Kee & Knox (1970). They defined trust as

„the willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other party.“ (1)

Vulnerability is an important word in this context. On the one hand it expresses the danger of loosing something important and on the other hand it shows the willingness to take risk (Mayer, Davis, Schoorman).

Please be aware that cooperation, confidence and predictability are often used interchangeably by mistake.

Model of trust

For Mayer, Davis, and Schoorman trust is the result of the factors of perceived trustworthiness and the trustor’s propensity. The three factors vary but can’t be seen independently from each other. Propensity is more or less stable and relates to the personal attributes.

Mayer, Davis, Schoorman, 1995

Mayer, Davis, Schoorman, 1995 (2)


The risk, which is mentioned in this model, is meant to

„take a risk in order to engage in trusting action.“ (2)

For example the manager who trusts an employee to make severe decisions instead of deciding everything on his or her own. The employee who trusts the manager to navigate properly also in financial crises to keep the business running… and the jobs save.

This model is not about blindly following the trustee because it takes the context into consideration as well. The outcome effects directly the factors of trustworthiness.

When an organisation is able to build an environment of trust other steps will might follow and people become self-managed or even self-directed. I’m aware the fact that this is not a desirable scenario for every employee… so some will leave the company and some have to leave as well… but in my opinion this is the only way how resilient organisations can evolve.
Organizations that will survive… even in difficult times.



(1) http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/2485.html
(2) Roger C. Mayer, James H. Davis, F. David Schoorman,The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Jul., 1995), pp. 709-734