Real consequences of a low-trust culture.

Years ago, I found myself working in at Sulzer Orthopedics which had an environment plagued by low trust.

In an effort to improve the workplace culture, the CEO embarked on an outward-bound cultural exercise one long weekend, which left a lasting impression on me.

One particular activity from that day still stands out vividly in my memory – the trust fall exercise. It involved falling backward, blindfolded and from a height, into the waiting arms of your colleagues.

Camp leader, “Ron, its your turn.”

Ron, “I’m not going to do this.”

Camp leader, “Why not?”

Ron, “I don’t trust any of these people.”

Ron verbalized what most employees already knew. Many departments and people did not trust each other.

In 1999, I eventually left Sulzer Ortho. Little did I know that in 2000, the company would become embroiled in a staggering $1 billion class-action lawsuit with patients who had received “dirty” acetabular cups, necessitating immediate revisions. This forced the company to change its name to Centerpulse and sell to Zimmer.

Reflecting on those days, I often ponder whether the pervasive culture of low trust at Sulzer Orthopedics played a role in this colossal operational mistake.

Trust, or the lack thereof, can have far-reaching consequences in any organization, as evidenced by the unfortunate events that followed my time there.