“Me? I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man
you can always trust to be dishonest.
Honestly. It’s the honest ones
you want to watch out for.”
~ Captain Jack Sparrow
If you have ever watched even one of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies, deep down your secret wish is probably to be Captain Jack Sparrow. Regardless of whether he had his ship, The Black Pearl, or was stranded on a desert island, he never stopped being Captain Jack Sparrow. His character is as eccentric as he is endearing. Throughout each movie, there is something about Jack Sparrow that strikes a chord with the viewer and it is a little something called trust.
It seems like a strange correlation to make when putting the words trust and pirates in the same sentence. However, unlike the workplaces of today, the pirate culture can teach us a lot about the importance of developing trust among team members. Pirates provide us the best practice example of cooperation, loyalty, and above all, trust. This environment was not cultivated out of a sense of altruism. Pirates were not looking to make friends or host dinner parties. This trust culture was developed and maintained because it made good business sense. Pirates were successful for three reasons.
- Code of Conduct: Pirates treated each other well. Many believe that pirates joined together to pursue evil aspirations, but on the contrary, pirates formed in response to bullying and inequality. In the 1600s, mercantile ship owners were corrupt and the captains abused their authority by stealing their crew’s pay, often having them killed. In response to these abuses, many of the crew members from these ships joined together and developed their own code of conduct. This code of conduct was a set of rules used to govern pirates’ behavior while on the ship. Every individual was treated fairly. Pirates welcomed a diverse group of people, again, not because they were morally enlightened, but because racism was not good practice. Instead, pirates leveraged individual talent to achieve their shared goals.
- To Go On Account: Pirates allowed everyone to have a vote. Sailing the high seas may sound like a glamorous adventure, but in reality, was a rough life. To assure the safety of everyone aboard, rules must be followed. Pirates appointed a captain as the designated individual to make hard decisions in critical moments. However, captains could be deposed at any time. This simple fact prevented captains from becoming tyrants and instead acting more like servants. To maintain this leadership role, the pirate captain needed to oversee the well-being of every individual entrusted to his care by assuring an opportunity to voice their opinions and addressing their concerns.
- No Prey, No Pay: Pirates received equal division of the booty. Instead of receiving a set salary for a hard day’s work, pirates would equally divide the valuables they recovered, I mean, stole. I am not promoting stealing, but there is something highlighted from this pirate behavior. While some companies focus on incentives to bring out the best work in their employees, pirates knew that the greatest reward (most loot stolen) was obtained when they worked together as a team. By combining their individual talents, they were better together than the sum of their parts. In the end, they knew that the captain would receive the same percentage as everyone else for the amount of work required to be exerted to achieve success. Meaning that when they worked together, the pirates knew they had a better chance of maximizing their rewards for the same amount of effort.
Pirates were a response to a cultural epidemic of injustice. Each individual sought safety, equality, and fairness; ultimately, they were seeking trust. When times get hard, trust is what binds a team together to achieve the impossible. If team members do not trust each other, it is unlikely that others will trust the services or products you offer. Often companies fade into irrelevance because of a lack trust. Studies conducted on company culture have shown that expecting others to be untrustworthy creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Team members who assume others are not pulling their weight tend to withhold effort which results in decreased performance. A team with one “bad apple” can experience performance deficits of 30 to 40 percent.
To scale any endeavor and have a positive impact requires cooperation which can only be established in a trusting environment. When leaders trust their employees by empowering them to make the right decisions and when employees trust their leaders to support them regardless of a positive or negative result, trust builds. Together, the team achieves its mission because they are united in their efforts. If you believe in equality for everyone, that we all deserve to be treated with respect, and that each individual opinion matters, then slap a patch on your eye and say “arr” because what we need is to develop the trust of a pirate.
“Contrary to conventional wisdom, pirate life was orderly and honest.” ~ Peter Leeson
How does your organization promote a pirate culture of trust?