Trust Doesn't Scale

I read these notes recently on trust not scaling and thought: this is exactly the kind of information we need in the membership circle! We already started experiencing this out second year when everyone knows everyone wasn’t true anymore. How can we reconnect in year 3?

June 27 2022 - Microsolidarity Rich Bartlett




  • “The thing about trust is that it doesn’t scale”. Enspiral maxed out at 100-200 people
  • Why do most collaborative groups not work?
  • Community of Enspiral
    • “People willing to go along with your weird ideas”
    • Practice of going on retreat - Deep space of connection over the course of 10 years, mutual disclosure, deep dialogue. That context is the ideal context of growth. An incubator for personal transformation. “A really peculiarly high level of trust.”
  • Concepts
    • Scale
      • Groups of different sizes are good for different things
      • Dunbar’s number
      • What size to operate at is a critical question
      • The way to have a great organization is to have a lot of great teams
      • Team by team change
      • Conference example: A hosting team of 5 will set the tone for a conference of 500 people. Model comfort, safety, collaboration, etc.
      • All of the most potent learning moments happen at the scale of 2-5 people.
    • Tempo
      • Collective identity grows from rhythmic encounter
      • Relational rhythms (peer support pods, retreat,etc)
      • Etc
    • Takeaways
      • Meet in a small group for peer support
      • Make a small time-limited commitment
      • Review and iterate with retrospectives
      • Get one group humming and then add 3 more


  • Scale:
    • Obsession with scale, especially in the US— often at the expense of impact—People feel the need for massive change and urgency but often thwart their efforts
    • Small change only adds up when someone is doing the adding. That adding is a storytelling role. It doesn’t happen by magic but people wish it did.
    • Hand metaphor: Fingertips to arm (system), which joint are we working at. A lot of folks trying to work at the larger scale haven’t worked at the smaller scale. If you can’t organizing 50 people, you can’t organizing 50,000s. Have developmental pathways align.
  • Spirituality:
    • How do you have belonging without conformity? Have different language to describe values.
  • Recovering from fadeout (e.g. not timebound)
    • XX
  • Trust doesn’t scale. Tech issues
    • Make comparison to agile tech. Do the same thing with culture.
    • “How do we want to be together.” → e.g. “We give each other feedback in a direct and kind way”
    • How do you get people’s perspective “up”? From content to context. Pull up various perspectives
  • Stigmergy - stigmergy is an indirect, mediated mechanism of coordination between actions, in which the trace of an action left on a medium stimulates the performance of a subsequent action.
    • “Do your thing and leave a trace”
    • This is how we reach scale
    • This is how we are inspired and learn from each other, build on impact

Trust doesn’t scale. > a roadmap to build high-trust communities

  • Minimum patterns (not a blueprint, or a plan)
  • Needs to respond to the context