UMW’s Faculty Academy this year was more inspirational than ever, and that’s saying something!!

Having earnestly listened to every highly tuned word of Karen Stephenson’s presentation on the topic of trust within institutions, it occurred to me that the faculty at my institution should take a full year to digest, reflect upon, and engage her advice. She argued that there are essentially three kinds of relationships within institutions–transactional relationships, authoritative relationships defined by differential statuses of power, and relationships of trust. Those which are based on trust function through collaboration and “can absorb great amounts of ambiguity and uncertainty.”

Moreover, she argued, in any network, there are three kinds of “nodal” employees, all three of which are typically unaware of the fact that they are nodal: the hub is the “clearinghouse of information” and thrives at on pulling in strains of information from disparate parts of the organization; the gatekeeper serves as a link in the traffic of information between two elements of an organization; and the pulsetaker is one to whom other people turn when seeking advice about strategies or policies, because he or she has his/her “fingers on the pulse of the organization.” If the hubs, gatekeepers, and pulsetakers of the organization are misaligned with the organization, the organization is must realign them or risk failure. Even more urgently, if the relationship which governs any of these three nodal employees is defined by betrayal (i.e., betrayal of trust), it cannot be salvaged.

It occurred to me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to reflect long and hard about: 1. the kinds of relationships that exist between faculty, between faculty and administration, and between our larger organizations; 2. the relationship between our institution at large and the public (i.e., the taxpayers of this mid-Atlantic state); 3. who the hubs, the gatekeepers, and the pulsetakers of our organization are; 4. the degree to which they value, exemplify, and promote trust; 5. (and this is the hardest and potentially most contentious one) identify and address where and why relationships based on betrayal exist; and 6. deliberate how to contain or reorganize accordingly. Our institution, having experienced lately a series of radical shifts in the top echelon of leadership, could truly benefit from such an analysis.

Readers, how might such an analysis benefit an institution, and how would you organize and engage in such an analysis?