Good fences make good neighbors?

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There’s a fascinating report in the Wall Street Journal describing the efforts of the chief naval officers (CNO) from the United States and China to build trust between their navies. A rising world power, last year China launched its first aircraft carrier as part of its efforts to become the dominant power in the South China Sea. Several of its neighbors who have defense pacts with the U.S. are getting nervous. Following a meeting of national leaders last fall, the CNOs are working to forge a relationship where their navies cooperate more at sea. China’s admiral has even proposed having the sailors from their carriers visit one of ours.

Back in the 1960s, McKinsey consultant Jon Katzenbach said trust was a function of shared accountability and collaborating on business activities. Two navies bumping against each other in the Pacific have a mutual interest in minimizing confusion and maximizing goodwill. Even though it’s controversial, these two admirals are working across boundaries of culture and conflicting national interests to build trust.

As you look across the boundaries of your organization, where would you benefit from building trust?

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