Imagine that you're assigned to a new project with a new team, but you know from the onset that there’s not enough trust among your team members. What do you think would be the overall impact of the lack of trust on the team's performance?
Perhaps, and most likely, the impact would be quite significant. Lack of trust will mess up with the potential for effective communication, collaboration, effectiveness, information and knowledge sharing, the quality of the decisions made and, ultimately, the successful accomplishment of the project at hand.
Such a scenario is not a made up case. It actually happens every day, among many teams in hundreds of organizations around the world.
Trust is essential for success in the workplace, as it is the oil that keeps the organizational machine lubricated, working smoothly and effectively. Trust is fundamental to ensure engagement, productivity and innovation.
Trust is essential for success in the workplace, both at the individual level and at the company level. For example, when it comes to trust in the organizational leadership, research by Interaction Associates and the “Building Workplace Trust 2014/2015” report shows that 82% of the people think that trusting the boss is fundamental for effectiveness in their job. Unfortunately, more than half of the interviewees don’t trust their boss, and that number seems to be increasing year after year.
Trust is more important than ever to keep organizations relevant and sustainable, with engaged and inspired employees, and high levels of productivity and innovation. It is essential to increase the levels of trust both between leaders and people, and among colleagues.
These are some of the key ways to increase trust in the workplace:
Moving forward past the lack of trust
If you are in a position of leadership and aware of the lack of trust in your organization and the impact it has in performance, it is YOUR responsibility to begin the process and move forward past the lack of trust. Since you are admitting that there’s a problem (lack of trust) that needs to be solved, you need to begin changing the patterns that perpetuate the problem.
Below are some ideas. However, it’s useful to simply acknowledge in front of your team members that you see the problem and you are concerned about it and want to get everyone onboard to make things better. Then, you need to immediately go from talk to action.
Getting input and involving people before making decisions
One of the most critical ways to increase trust is by involving and engaging people before any important decision is made. I hope you are not one of those who think “this is my job, I get to make the decision” or “they don’t know about this topic”. That’s not going to get you too far in building trust among your colleagues, leaders or subordinates.
Going back to the example at the beginning, an important milestone in influencing a positive culture of trust would be to ask people to come together to solve problems, identify opportunities for the project, propose ideas, etc.
Usually, people are eager to get involved, but the lack of trust prevents them from participating more. They don’t want to tell their ideas to others who might not acknowledge them or give the proper credit later, or they don’t want to be shut up by their leaders. Begin by opening the communication channels and allowing people to participate.
Giving information to promote understanding
Eventually, there will come the time when a decision has to be made. After getting people’s input and analyzing all the available information and data, any decision will somehow validate some ideas and save others for later. It is fundamental to communicate with clarity and transparency why a decision is made. This promotes understanding and acceptance. Not necessarily total agreement, but at least the capacity to say “the decision was made taken into account all the input given”.
The problem in many organizations is not that people dislike a particular decision, but that they are not fully informed of why that is the decision made. Unfortunately, dislike for the process of making a decision gets confused with dislike for the authority making such decision, or the decision itself. And leadership then gets a wrong opinion on their people’s behavior as a consequence. Leaders could think “people are not engaged because they are not fully implementing the decision”. Well, perhaps the problem is about understanding and not about disagreement.
While it is true that people will disagree with some of the decisions an organization makes, having available information about the rationale behind such decisions can prove to be effective.
Creating an environment for success
Setting up your colleagues and teams for success is a basic component of trust. That means providing the tools, resources and opportunities that people need to succeed at the individual level. An organization’s success is equivalent to the success of every single individual. Therefore, ensuring that people have what they require to succeed is a hallmark in increasing trust.
Creating an environment for success doesn’t mean that people won’t fail. On the contrary, it means that they have the opportunity to learn from each experience without punishment.
Promoting safe space for risk-taking and honest mistakes/failures
If somebody doesn’t feel that risk-taking is allowed or they are afraid of being punished for making a mistake, they will never have the level of trust necessary to openly communicate whatever is happening with their work. Consequently, the impact could be catastrophic. Instead of communicating and learning from mistakes and failures, people will hide them in order to avoid punishment.
It is essential to let people know and feel that risk-taking is accepted (and necessary for effectiveness and innovation). At the same time, coach them when they make honest mistakes. The fear for failure has to be radically decreased in the work place in order to everyone to be open about what is really going in the everyday operation.
A questionnaire to subjectively assess the level of trust in your organization
These are some questions that will help you assess the levels of trust in your organization:
How do people share their ideas in the workplace? Do they do it freely?
What are the levels of collaboration? Does collaboration happen naturally and spontaneously or is it forced from the top leaders?
What happens when somebody makes a mistake? Do they openly share what happened, the lessons learned and move on, or do they hide the situation in order to avoid punishment? Do people point fingers at others instead of taking responsibility?
Is the rationale behind major decisions communicated to team members? Or are the decisions communicated without any explanation or “why” behind them?
Do people have the tools necessary to successfully perform their work and succeed at their task? Are they open about what they need in order to succeed?
Do people like to voluntarily participate in new projects?