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Cheri Baker
Team Effectiveness Consultant
Seattle, Washington
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Building Trust in the Workplace

Read this article to discover ten simple steps you can take to increase trust in your organization.

Written Dec 26, 2007, read 19387 times since then.
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Let's begin looking at the subject of trust by asking ourselves a few questions.  Are you trusted?  Do your employees believe that you have the best interests of the company and your team at heart when you go about your day?  If one of your team members came across information that was potentially damaging, would they share it with you or hide it from you?  Do people tell you the truth even when it hurts to do so?

Trust is one of the noblest of human emotions.  It is also one of the most powerful factors you can cultivate in your work team.  But how can we "build trust"?  If your team doesn't trust you now, how can you earn it back?

Trust begins to erode when people perceive that you are not walking your talk.  Sometimes these perceptions reflect reality, and sometimes they don't.  Lying to your team will obviously break down trust, but there is more to buildling trust than simply being honest.

Here are a few suggestions for building trust in your team:

1)  Remember that trust is "built" over time, and can't be fixed with one grand gesture.  Focus on creating many small strides towards a culture of trust.

2) Take the time to put yourself in the shoes of your team.  "If I saw what just happened, and I didn't know what I know as manager, how would I respond?  What would I think?"  A good dose of empathy can be your barometer to assess how well your efforts are being received.

3) Ask for feedback from your team, and be clear that respectful feedback is welcome, even if you don't agree with it.  Make your attitude reflect the maxim "I can't guarantee I'll agree with you, but it's important that I know what you think."

4) When implementing a decision or program which will be unpopular, be as transparent as possible about the decision making process.  When choices are especially hard, involving your team in on the process of deciding will help build trust for a difficult choice.

5) Don't lie about bad news.  It tends to come out eventually anyway, and if you smooth things over about that coming layoff or budget cut you'll just piss people off later.  A response of "Honestly I don't know.  I hope not.  I'll tell you as soon as I can." is fair in many situations.

6) Share information regularly. Let people in on the data you get as a manager whenever possible.  In the absence of news, people gossip.  Sharing real data can build trust.  I worked for one leader who regularly shared executive level reports on company finances, and then promptly asked us to shred the documents at the end of the meeting to maintain confidentiality.  He helped build trust in our team that we were being provided with accurate information on the status of the company.

7) If you can't answer a question, just say so.  "I can't answer that question right now, but I'll let you know when I can."  Don't lie.

8) Whenever you don't meet a commitment, be up front about it.  "I know I said that we'd be able to get some temp staff in this week to reduce overtime.  I have not been able to make that happen.  I'm sorry I wasn't able to meet that commitment to you."  The bolder you are about pointing out your own lapses or roadblocks, the higher regard your team will have for you.  (Unless those lapses are so frequent that you're simply not effective).

9) Don't play the "I'm the Manager" card.  When I managed HR, managers would call me and say "I'm the manager and people need to listen to me!  I'm going to tell them so!"  When it comes to trust and respect, those are earned, not demanded.  So don't demand trust.  Just keep working away to earn it.

10) Hold yourself and others accountable.  If a team member is promising the moon and delivering nothing, call them on it.  No matter how "trustworthy" you are, if you don't manage your team well, they'll lose trust in your management ability.  You can be the most honest person on earth - but they also need you to be a leader.  You can't have one without the other.

Trust is a tricky thing.  You can't create it directly; it emerges when the conditions (open communication, being accountable, being honest) are right, and when the conditions are not right it simply won't happen.  So focus on creating an environment where trust can grow.  It won't happen overnight, it may take months rather than days, but it is definitely worth having.

Learn more about the author, Cheri Baker.

Comment on this article

  • Consultant, Writer, Speaker 
Austin, Texas 
Michelann Quimby
    Posted by Michelann Quimby, Austin, Texas | Jun 09, 2008

    I agree that transparency in organizations should be the rule, not the exception. While sometimes secrecy is necessary, when it becomes ingrained in the culture it creates a distrustful environment.