A survey from EY discovered something that should give managers at all levels pause: Fewer than half of employees participating in the survey have “a great deal of trust” in their boss (46 percent), their team (49 percent), or their employer (49 percent).
Here’s the rub: Employees and teams who don’t feel as if they can trust others may bring that discomfort to everything they do on the job. They won’t take chances or go the extra mile because those actions could be criticized. They don’t cooperate with coworkers as much as they could because there might be nothing in it for them. And their lack of trust extends to how they deal with customers, which can sow seeds of mistrust between consumers and your brand, and ultimately hurt the organization.
Building trust within your team requires more than simply saying, “I trust you.” Many execs claim to trust their teams, but then continue to micromanage, refuse to offer opportunities for growth, and are critical of the tiniest missteps. True trust must be rooted in actions and accountability.
Laura Stack, in her book Faster Together: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity, writes, “In the workplace, accountability assumes a high level of trust among everyone involved. This requires you and your team members to develop a team culture that, while questioning the status quo, believes that others have your best interests at heart.” Here are some great ways to develop a team culture that fosters trust:
Setting Realistic Goals
Goals you set for your employees can be tricky. Set goals too low and employees might feel you don’t trust them to develop. Set goals too high and employees could wonder why you are piling so much on them, thus leading them to at least question your judgment. The key is finding ways to challenge your colleagues without overworking them, while also listening to their concerns. Also, don’t be afraid to let your team members experiment, learn, and even fail through the entire process. This is part of their growth, and if you support that, their trust in you and each other also grows.
Dennis and Michelle Reina, in their book Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace, write, “… when you trust your co-workers’ abilities to make good decisions, you reinforce their trust in themselves, and you encourage them to trust your decisions as well.” This exchange, which the Reinas call “Trust of Capability,” “infuses your workplace with optimism, energy, and a collective sense that individual expertise is valued. You lift yourself and others out of the mindset of doubt, second-guessing, scrutinizing, and fear. You open up opportunities for breakthrough innovation, process improvements, and enhanced profitability. You discover you are capable of more than you imagined.” This is a powerful philosophy that requires reciprocal trust between your team and yourself.
You want employees to deliver outstanding work and to trust you and each other. To encourage trust, you must walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Your own accountability must be strong and continuously on display. Leading by example means holding yourself to the same standards to which you hold your employees. After all, why would they want to achieve excellence if you can’t be trusted to do the same?
Another aspect of a good leader’s accountability is putting in the hard work—setting standards and expectations, bringing in the right people to get the job done (and done well), and taking responsibility for your team’s missteps as well as your own. Admit when you fail or get something wrong. Your fallibility and subsequent accountability show your team that nobody is perfect, but together, with trust, obstacles can still be overcome.
Be Direct, Honest, and Consistent
Nowadays, employees aren’t fooled by double-talk and non-answers to questions. They can likely see through deception, no matter how well-intentioned your misjudgments are or if you’ve failed to be accountable to your mistake. Misleading and misguided communication kills trust because your team may never know what you’re really thinking. Being direct is essential for effective collaboration and achieving desired results—and for building and maintaining trust.
Similarly, consistency matters as leaders attempt to foster trust. A calm demeanor one day and micromanagement the next will leave your team confused and can cause them to not trust what mood they’ll see next from you. Dennis and Michelle Reina write in Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace that “consistent behavior lifts your relationships to a higher level, instilling confidence and commitment and encouraging people to concentrate on the work itself rather than the confusion created by mixed signals. Creativity, increased energy, and collaboration result, and feelings of trust flourish.”
Most micromanagement is rooted in distrust. Stack writes in Faster Together, “It’s as much about fear as it is about control. Micromanagers aren’t necessarily on a power kick; rather, they mistrust everyone. They’re afraid if they don’t ‘ride herd’ on other team members, everyone will make catastrophic errors.”
Not surprisingly, productivity decreases when you are breathing down your team’s collective neck. You assembled, hired, trained, and guided your team; if you trust your management skills, then trust the people you manage.
Some level of gossip in the workplace is inevitable. It’s not exactly healthy, but coworkers do derive a social benefit from gossip that shares innocuous information. However, gossip between a manager and a subordinate—especially if initiated by the manager—inherently erodes trust. Think about it: If your boss discussed office politics with you or revealed personal information about a coworker, would you ever be confident he or she wouldn’t gossip about you when you aren’t in the room? You may enjoy the gossip, but ultimately, you likely would lose respect for your supervisor. Build and maintain trust—and set a good example—by not gossiping to subordinates or peers in the workplace.
Trust for Now and the Future
The importance of trust cannot be understated. In Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace, the Reinas write, “Trust is foundational to how you bring yourself to your work and your relationships. Yet, trust is fragile. It takes time to develop, is easy to lose, and is hard to regain. Countless numbers of people in the workplace today suffer from the loss of trust. In fact, after decades of constant change—years of downsizing, restructuring, and reengineering, or of mergers and growth—trust among people at every organizational level is needed more than ever.”
With this in mind, trust becomes a pillar of good leadership, along with good communication, empathy, vision, humility, and dedication. Teams require trust to be effective, so be proactive in strengthening that trust to ultimately strengthen the team.