Once upon a time, human survival depended on our ability to build trusting relationships.

In the beginning, humans were not on the top of the food chain. We roamed the earth alone or in very small groups. Animals hunted us and an unexpected change in the weather could kill us. If we did not find a reliable food source, we did not survive. Even a minor injury or illness could be life-threatening.

According to Simon Sinek, who is an author and motivational speaker, these constant threats caused humans to form social communities. We came together as tribes to collaborate and cooperate. This social interaction eventually allowed us to trust one another. We knew that someone would wake us up if a tiger entered the camp while we slept. Sinek calls this the “circle of safety.”

These circles of safety exist in the workplace as well. In a perfect world we work together and protect the company from external threats like competition. When we feel safe at work, we focus all of our efforts on accomplishing the company’s goals.

What happens when you cannot trust the people you work with? What happens when the threats come from within? Have you ever seen a boss fire someone just to hit the numbers? What if your co-workers will sacrifice anyone to move up the corporate ladder? What if your vendors do more to help the competition than they do for you?

When you cannot trust the people in your circle of safety, you may get very protective and your actions switch to self-preservation. Any sense of loyalty you once had will be gone. This creates a bad culture within the organization.

Leaders create the work environment and they determine the level of safety and security sensed by the employees. It is their responsibility to create a good environment.

How is the circle of safety in your organization? What can you do to improve it?

Bill Nordbrock is vice president of community relations for SCORE Southern Arizona, a nonprofit group that offers free small-business counseling and mentoring by appointment at several locations. For information, go to southernarizona.score.org, send an email to mentoring@scoresouthernaz.org or call 505-3636.