How trust is like Westworld’s maze


TL:DR — gaining the trust of a team or individual is like a maze you’re trying to get to the centre of, with the ability to move forward and backwards in the relationship, or get lost completely. Whatever happens, there’s always a step you can take to try and get close to the middle.

For anyone that hasn’t seen it, Westworld is a TV show about robots in an entertainment park. They exist to provide pleasure to their park’s guests in a variety of different ways (some more post-watershed than others). To cut a long story short, there’s trouble in the park when some of the robots start to gain consciousness and ask WTF they’re doing enslaved to these (broadly horrible) human beings.

Central to the narrative is the concept of a ‘maze’ to describe the robots’ journey towards consciousness. Rather than being simply a state that they gain overnight, their progress is a winding road which consists of rabbit warrens and setbacks. In the show it is presented as this symbol:

One of the protagonists explains how he used to think that consciousness was a set of capabilities that stacked on top of each other, which eventually led to a new was of seeing and experiencing the world. He develops the concept of the maze when he realises that it is in fact a non-linear journey that they can go forward with and backwards in, often without realising it.

A model of building trust in organisational teams

That got me thinking about a model of trust that i’ve previously written about when describing Digital Transformation Principles and team dynamics. Roughly based on things like Maslo’s hierarchy of needs (and some other models I can’t quite remember) it’s meant to describe how teams can come together to function more effectively. The topline concept is that if you can understand someone’s experiences then you can build empathy with them. Once you have that respect for their decisions can form and from there you can build a basis where you will trust their judgement over your own and others’.

I now see, that actually the maze analogy is more true to life than this pyramid one — with Trust sitting at the centre as the point you’re trying to get to. Relationships are non-linear journeys that you go on with another person or group, with some experiences improving that connection and others setting you back.

These experiences aren’t always controlled by the parties involved. I’ve seen situations where exactly the same team have reduced their levels of trust, because of circumstances in the wider organisation.

For example, restructures reduce people’s ability to feel secure in their role. This means they are less likely to have the confidence needed to give someone else your trust. A team that were high functioning before such circumstance can quickly become less capable if these behaviours are left unaddressed.

So what?

The next time something happens to you or your team that knocks your relationship with someone else, don’t give up on it as lost. Perhaps you need to do some more of the activities that brought you together in the first place. You may need to even go all the way back to the beginning but as long as you keep going, you’ll get there in the end.