Trust is a powerful 5 letter word that allows the human race to work effectively. It allows us to predict potential outcomes and make sense of what can be an unpredictable world. We trust that the sun will come up; we trust that our bank is securely storing our money; we trust that the lights at the intersection are working correctly as we pass through; we trust that the pilot has the correct qualifications to fly the plane. Trust is the cornerstone from which we make our decisions. It stands to reason then, that the most important part of a high functioning team is trust. It’s the foundation on which all other elements are built. As we enter a new year, some of us with new team members, some with new leadership, it’s the perfect time to start reflecting on the concept of trust.
Ask your team members if they trust the team. I’d be prepared to say that you will generally get a positive answer. If you probe a little deeper, I guarantee that you find the level of trust is conditional. You see there are certain parameters around which trust is generally given. Your team would trust that there are levels of acceptable behaviour that people abide by in the workplace. They may even go so far as to express that they trust that members of the team are working together placing individual interests aside. This though is just surface level, it’s your garden variety socially acceptable trust. High performing teams need a deeper level of credence that takes an investment of time and energy.
I believe that in the workplace trust falls into two categories. The first is that we trust our colleagues to follow the rules and the general social norms of the workplace. How we greet each other, the manner in which we interact, the sharing of resources and the general collegiality of the profession. The second is at a deeper level. This type of trust allows us to take risks, to expose our vulnerabilities, to ask for help and to remove silos. This is the level that we need across our workplaces. As a leader you need to engineer a protective environment for trust to be established. The question is ‘how do you develop this environment?’
Developing trust can be a timely process as past experiences can play a significant role in allowing it to develop. Trust is not a tick a box procedure, you can’t put in on your to do list and order someone to trust you. It’s a human emotion that can be multi-faceted. It’s a feeling we get when we share similar experiences. I’ve heard Simon Sinek say that just by doing what you say you are going to do doesn’t make you trustworthy, it just makes you reliable. I couldn’t agree more. I know some very reliable people but I’d don’t know that I’d trust them with my credit card details. However, I also know some unreliable people whom I trust implicitly. As a leader it’s a fine balance, trust is generally given from the very beginning a team is established. The difficulty is that you can only assess your decision once it has been given.
There is a great deal of research that supports the fact that shared experiences create trust. You’ll often hear that a meeting was good but the dinner afterwards was where the real learning occurred. This is because this networking time allows us to share common experiences. It provides an opportunity to share information voluntarily, building connections based on similar events. This level of informal exchange actually has an impact on our physiology by releasing the hormone oxytocin. This hormone is responsible for the positive ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling we get when we find something that strikes us emotionally. It supports the building of relationships which in turn builds trust. The more information we share and connect in a nonjudgmental way the more hormone is releasedand the stronger the bond. A study conducted by Amsterdam scientists Shalvia S. & De Dreub C. (2014) found that oxytocin actually boosted group serving behaviour, causing members of a group to act in way that would ensure the group achieves its goal. Now I’m not suggesting that we all engage in week long bonding sessions, we’ve seen how this has worked for some of sporting teams. What I am recommending however is that you spend time getting to know your team , taking time each day to touch base and build relationships.
Building trust takes time. I’m not sure there is any secret formula to building it as it’s an individual decision that is made based on a number of factors. It is my firm belief however that there are a few fundamental principles that can accelerate it.
- Share common experiences, taking time to get to know your people and taking an interest in them both professionally and personally will assist.
- Develop a shared vision; this builds trust as people understand what you are working towards together.
- Work collaboratively and do things that support your colleagues to show that you are prepared to put the needs of others before your own.
- Be consistent in your words and actions. This reduces uncertainty and brings a certain level of predictability to the workplace.
- Simply repeated the words you hear is not listening. Try to understand the message and possibly the reason behind it.
- Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know the answers. Asking for assistance when you don’t know the answer can create an environment where others will do the same. Clarifying ensures the job is done the right way.
- Be flexible, it shows you’re human.
- Follow through. If you make a decision and set a plan in place follow it through.
- Always be open and honest in communication. Nothing erodes trust like hushed tones and secrets.
In a world that is increasing in speed and complexity with ever increasing demands on our time, building a strong trusting environment is crucial. If we create an environment where we can completely rely on the person next to us, then anything is possible. High performing teams are not built on grudging compliance they thrive on trust. You can have the finest structures, procedures and routines in place but without trust your progress will be limited. Remember building trust really is the work before the work. It’s undeniably the glue that binds.