Building a Culture of Trust
Trust in business shows up in a multitude of ways. Trust between a business and its customers is essential for growth and continued revenue generation. But trust within an organization can have an even bigger impact on its success. Innovation, creativity, and teamwork all require a foundation of trust. In my work with teams on boosting effectiveness through increasing psychological safety, trust is an important theme. If you’re a leader who wants to strengthen trust within your organization or team, where should you start? Relationships.
Leader and employee
The relationships you build with the individual members of your team also contribute to feelings of trust. One of the leadership attributes that comes up most frequently when it comes to fostering trust is consistency. This means that a leader needs to be predictable and dependable in their behaviors and expectations. By being reliable and consistent in your words and actions, leaders demonstrate integrity and credibility.
Another way leaders can improve trust is to demonstrate care and interest in employee goals. By recognizing the contributions that employees are making, leaders are giving credit and praise which is part of a positive and supportive environment, reinforcing trust and reinforcing the value of each team member. Related to this is the leader's responsibility to ensure that employees have co-created a talent development plan and are following it. By providing opportunities for learning, skill-building and advancement, employees will come to understand that their growth is valued and supported. This can contribute to growing trust in the leader and organization.
Part of talent development is fostering a growth mindset and helping to identify stretch assignments that give employees new opportunities to build their skills. These types of projects help build trust because they are a demonstration of the leader’s belief and confidence in the employee’s potential. After all, trust goes both ways. New responsibilities can bring new stress. Having candid conversations with employees about how they are managing their stress while learning also strengthens the relationship between the leader and employee.
Finally, trust is reinforced when individuals take responsibility for their actions and follow through on commitments. As a leader, lead by example and hold yourself accountable. Encourage team members to do the same, setting clear expectations and providing support to help them fulfill their responsibilities. Part of this means trusting employees to make decisions appropriate to their level and expertise. If things don’t go as planned, the follow up conversation will offer another opportunity to build trust as learning from failure is a key element of psychological safety, but more on that later.
As a leader, your relationships with your peers can contribute to a positive organizational culture. How you work together to solve problems, develop talent and establish priorities sets an expectation for how your team collaborates with other parts of the organization and each other. If your peer relationships demonstrate shared values, a belief in mutual success, and common goals, then those attributes are likely to show up in your team’s cross-functional relationships. You are setting a standard for trust.
Stephen M. R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust establishes a useful framework for thinking about the key things that matter in these peer-to-peer and leader-employee relationships. Person-to-person trust is built on character and competence. Character comes from acting with integrity and following through on your commitments. Competency is more closely linked to ability. If you aren’t delivering on your commitments with quality work, then competency comes into question and trust can start to erode. These two elements are closely linked to an emotional intelligence (EQ) concept that I return to time after time in my work with leaders: self-awareness. In order to act with integrity and deliver on your commitments, you must be aware of your values, purpose, goals and skills. Once you start operating outside of these things, it can be harder for others to maintain trust because there is a disconnect in your behaviors and words.
As I shared earlier, trust serves as a catalyst for enhanced productivity, engagement, and ultimately, success. This is particularly true when trust grows within a team. Part of the leader’s role is to strengthen trust within your team. Here’s where the framework of psychological safety for highly effective teams is useful for this discussion. In Amy Edmondson’s book, The Fearless Organization, she identifies four dimensions that contribute to psychological safety.
Willingness to help: How do teams support each other? Is it okay to ask for help? Will others provide help when asked? Relationships form the backbone of any collaborative effort and relationships with high levels of trust accelerate results. When team members witness the value and positive outcomes of collaboration, trust in each other's abilities and contributions grows. They become more willing to ask for help in the future.
Inclusion & diversity: Who can be their full selves at work? Whose ideas are listened to? Encourage team members to acknowledge and appreciate each other's perspectives, experiences, and challenges. Foster an environment where individuals feel safe to express their emotions and seek support when needed. Empathy builds bonds, strengthens relationships, and deepens trust. Create platforms and opportunities for sharing ideas, concerns, and feedback, ensuring that everyone's voice is heard and valued.
Attitude to risk and failure: What happens when something goes wrong? Is failure a learning opportunity or an embarrassment? A commitment to learning from failures in a consistent and predictable way can lead to higher trust within the team. Knowing that the team shares a growth mindset and will work together to find opportunities to grow when things go wrong leads to better risk taking, more transparency, and improved long-term team performance.
Open conversation: Is it safe to ask questions and raise concerns? Transparent and open communication is vital for building trust. Encourage regular and honest dialogue among team members, promoting active listening and respectful exchanges.
By encouraging respect, making time for trust to grow and leading by example, leaders create a space for people to bring their full selves to work. Celebrating a diversity of experiences, backgrounds and learning styles demonstrates that everyone on the team is valued for who they are in addition to what they contribute. Remember that building trust takes time and consistent effort. It requires leaders to actively invest in relationships and create an environment that prioritizes trust and psychological safety.
Resources for building individual and team trust:
The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything by Stephen M. R. Covey
It’s the Manager: Moving from Boss to Coach by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter
Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant
This article was also published on Medium.