In the perfect organisation everyone would trust everybody else, all of the time. We all know that in the organisation of the real world things are not nearly this rosy. Some managers don’t trust their employees; some employees don’t trust their managers; members of one team sometimes don’t trust members of other teams; and teammates sometimes don’t trust one another.
Plenty of influential writers have spoken of the importance of trust. Patrick Lencioni, in his popular work The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team cites lack of trust as the number one reason why teams (and, in turn, organisations) do not succeed. Stephen Covey (junior), in his book, The Speed of Trust, says trust is “the one thing that changes everything”. Even songwriter and pianoman Billy Joel spruked the benefits of trust, on a song off his album The Bridge, where he implores us in his own daggy 1980’s melodic way “It’s a matter of trust, it’s always been a matter of trust”.
So if Patrick, Stephen and Billy concur that trust is so important, how can we turn up the trust in in our organisations and our teams? I haven’t written a book or a song about trust, but from my perspective as employee, manager, human resources professional and student of organisational psychology I’ve come to believe there there are 6 things organisations can do:
1. Help employees and managers connect with higher level vision and goals.
When employees are solely focused on their own, very specific, work goals it’s all too easy to see others as the competition, rather than seeing everyone as being on the same side and striving towards the same thing. When everyone is strongly connected with higher level organisation-wide goals it’s much easier to develop effective relationships and trust.
2. Acknowledge and reward group achievements, more-so than individual ones.
Alfie Kohn, in his 1993 Harvard Business Review article Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work said that “the surest way to destroy co-operation and, therefore, organizational excellence, is to force people to compete for rewards or recognition or to rank them against each other. For each person who wins, there are many others who carry with them the feeling of having lost”. By rewarding primarily at the collective level in organisations this harmful competition is reduced and trusting relationships emerge.
3. Replace old style, hierarchical mindsets with a shared leadership philosophy.
Organisations need order, and the traditional hierarchical system has been a good way to achieve this. The trouble is that the more hierarchical the style of an organisation the more of a gulf there is between managers and workers, and the more suspicion and distrust emerges. Encouraging shared leadership approaches in which employees are given information and are encouraged to propose ideas will develop employee commitment, turn up the trust between senior levels and base levels and improve overall success.
4. Encourage people in the organisation to get to know each other as human beings.
It’s human nature to ascribe negative attributes to things we know little about and positive attributes to things we know well. If people in workplaces know each other in more than just a superficial way they will have, on the whole, better relationships and will trust each other. My article about Starting Team Meetings With a Human Moment discussed one simple and effective way of helping with this. Some other approaches include having teams work together on volunteer work, creating opportunities for people to undergo learning and development together, and shuffling work positions once and a while to encourage people to build a wider network of relationships at work.
5. Define, communicate and uphold values of mutual respect.
To underpin a climate of trust organisations must uphold the value of people treating each other well and respecting one another. I was a member of a management team once which dedicated time discussing the importance of this respect value. To build commitment to this one of the managers brought a paper bag to work, drew a big cross on it, and got all of the other managers to sign it, as a visual reminder that “bagging” others at work was not OK. With this paper bag framed and placed on the wall as a constant visual reminder relationships in this team were positive and trust was high.
6. Encourage everyone to start with an assumption of trust.
Trust breeds trust, while mistrust breeds mistrust. Managers who begin with the assumption that employees cannot be trusted usually have this expectation met, while managers who start with the opposite assumption are very often pleasantly surprised. Similarly, team members who trust their colleagues and assume they are operating out of good intent are usually rewarded with constructive, supportive working relationships where unconstructive conflict is rare. By trusting others from the beginning we may be disappointed once in a while, but it’s far better than the alternative.
Wherever you work and whatever role you play I’d really encourage you to give at least a couple of these ideas a try. Since human beings and organisations can never be perfect it’s unlikely that you’ll achieve 100% trust, but it’s very likely you’ll turn up the trust enough that your workplace will become a much happier and much more effective place.
If you are interested in ways that you can build trust in your organisation or team Elephant Capability can help. Send an email using the contact link below or phone 0400917167 to find out more.