Building trust within an organisation
Updated: Feb 17
A successful organisation is, at its very heart, a team that works together effectively and as with any team, regardless of size, one of the most important bonds that glues it together is trust. Achieve trust and any team will perform better, achieve more and succeed more often. Fail to build trust and any team will soon fall apart into a mass of backbiting and acrimony.
But, much like the Holy Grail, although trust can bring real and lasting benefits, it is very hard to find so how can managers uncover the magic formula to building effective teams that have trust at their core?
Encourage mutual respect
Is there an atmosphere of respect within the team? It would seem like common sense that people who respect each other work better together and achieve more but you’d be surprised how many organisations seem to forget this in their everyday lives.
What blockers are there which work to prevent respect developing? Identifying those can reveal a lot about the way that an organisation works and not all of this will be flattering but these blockers need to be confronted and resolved if the workplace is to become an environment where respect can flourish. This is the first link in the chain of trust, as once it is present, everything else can flow from it.
It’s all right not to know everything
Although conventional management paradigms place a high value on knowing everything, the real world is not quite so cut and dried. Employees tend to regard a manager who knows (or claims they know) everything with suspicion and a good degree of resentment unless that manager leavens their knowledge with a good helping of humility – and that’s rare in any workplace.
A good leader, one who wants to build an atmosphere of trust in their organisation, can start by admitting that they don’t know everything. This admission can usher in a whole wave of benefits, including a pretext for consulting colleagues, who will welcome the opportunity to contribute and will feel better knowing that their input is valued. A manager’s admission that they don’t know the answer but will try to find out will win more respect than someone who claims to have an answer to every question and – most likely – does not.
Keeping true to your values
It’s easy to be sincere and truthful when skies are clear and the sea is calm, but come the first inklings of stormy weather and the tendency for self-preservation at any cost quickly cuts in.
Many people deride politicians for drifting with the wind, abandoning their principles for momentary gain and short-lived advantage and the same holds true for managers – those who remain steadfast when times are bad tend to earn (albeit grudging) respect more than those who jump ship and revert to mendacity and obfuscation. In addition, bad news may meet with greater acceptance than if it is cloaked behind weasel words or delivered by somebody who is not trusted.
The traditional model of organisational communication is top down; this hearkens back to a more feudal time when social class dictated a certain deferential paradigm. As a hangover of a more hierarchical time, it is a weight around the neck of many organisations and can inhibit a more fluid and community-based approach. This can help to develop a feeling amongst employees that their views are taken seriously and valued, which can lead to increased commitment and engagement with work projects.
There is something impersonal about receiving all communications via email or text message. It can lead to a lack of confidence and trust in leadership. Workplace surveys have often shown that employees like to be told things face to face – it’s more personal, body language can be assessed and this can increase the degree to which management statements are received and trusted. This is particularly important when it comes to things like behavioural change, statements about company policies and procedures (which an employer needs to implement to keep compliant with the law) and attempts to instil organisational culture and ethos.
Failure to embed face-to-face communication into an organisation’s culture can lead to a sense of distance and detachment as well as a culture of disenchantment and cynicism about any management attempts to communication, no matter how well-intentioned they are.
Nobody agrees all the time. There will be instances where disagreement takes the form of what the media euphemistically call “full and frank discussion” and times when a minor spat over a difference of views is as far as it goes. No organisation likes disagreement – there’s a feeling that unanimity is important as it reflects on the cohesion of the organisation. However, if this leads to attempts to get an agreement from people who don’t agree, merely for appearances’ sake, it can be very bad for developing trust. A blatant falsehood at the heart of the organisation is like a poisoned well and affects everyone, not just those involved in the original disagreement.
The wise employer recognises that disagreements often show that there may be another way of tackling a problem. Those other ways can be investigated and – if valid – embraced, improving work processes and the company as a whole. Accepting disagreements can show employees that their employer trusts them enough to accept differing opinions and viewpoints.
Lead by example
Building trust is like going down a slide – it can be daunting but somebody has to go first and if management have been preaching about the importance of trust, they will have to lead by example. It’s a lonely furrow – for some considerable time, leaders and managers may have to work hard with few obvious results but eventually things will bear fruit. If there is only one key leader who has pioneered and embraced the need for trust-building, they will need to select a group of like-minded individuals who can embody their vision and act as trust ambassadors to the rest of the workforce.
It is important that management stick to their furrow – short cuts may be tempting but they can lead to problems that will undermine all the efforts that have been made so far.
Whilst the organisation may say that it is keen to listen to employees and take their views into account, this has to be shown in obvious ways to reassure everyone that management ‘walks the walk’.
Establishing channels for employees to make their voices heard can show everyone that their views are being listened to and acted upon, thereby building a sense of trust in management. However, those channels need to be something a bit more interesting than a badly-written newsletter with a tear-off comments slip. Small team meetings, informal toolbox talks, even a presentation complete with pizza can help ring the changes and break out of the “standing at the front, feeling awkward” model.
Uncertainty is the breeding ground of rumour and ensuring that the organisation is sincere in what it says and the way that it says it can help to overcome this.
One thing that undermines trust and creates suspicion and disenchantment amongst employees is inconsistency; people are more likely to react well to something with which they are familiar and conversely feel insecure and anxious if things are constantly in a state of flux. A reassured workforce will spend more time working efficiently and productively.