A culture of trust can reduce stress and, as individuals feel they can rely on one another and on themselves, it helps organizations to produce higher-quality work. Here’s how you build it—and, in turn, build a more efficient and successful team.
The “Fall or Fail” Proposition
We’ve all done it—possibly at a corporate retreat: the dreaded trust fall. One person stands facing another person’s back, arms out and ready, while the other person just lets go and free falls backwards. The first person invariably catches them under the arms, keeping them from falling to the ground.
It may be a cliché, but it crystallizes the importance of trust in any team. It’s an interesting exercise in letting go (if you’re the person falling) and in holding a team member up (if you’re the person breaking their fall). Both individuals feel connected to one another in that second of time. And it’s a fitting metaphor for the relationship between colleagues: Person #1 relying on Person #2, and Person #2 feeling dependable and proud because they’ve successfully come through for Person #1.
What is a “Culture of Trust”?
The Great Place to Work Institute describes a Culture of Trust as a way to “improve productivity, engagement, and confidence” on three levels: company, team, and interpersonal (between two people).
In a way, it’s a building block proposition. Once most team members can claim interpersonal one-to-one trust, they move one step closer to learning to trust other teams. And once you have teams who trust each other, you have a company-wide “culture of trust.”
Sometimes our colleagues let us fall to the ground. And it’s tough to say which is worse: to be the person who falls, or the person who fails. But when there’s a company culture of trust, individuals would often rather be the one who falls—because they’d rather have a personal reputation of reliable consistency (more on that later).
As the digitally native “Network Generation” enters the workplace, trust will be a currency in both remote and in-person work. Here are a few elements for building a culture of trust in this generation and all others to create a work community in which employees have got each other’s back. This is the Arootah framework for evaluating the foundation of trust in your own organization. With this mindset, your team is primed to collaborate in a way that capitalizes on both individual and group strengths.
Point #1: Set a Foundation.
All too often in corporate culture, some colleagues take on the work of other colleagues as a way of owning more responsibility; this overlap of responsibilities is in fact endemic to many organizations. Having a colleague’s back doesn’t mean taking on their job; however, it’s about owning your own mission, goals, plans, and execution reliably.
Point #2: It Must Be Earned.
Time and time again, the surest way to earn trust is to own your own mission, goals, plans and execution; once colleagues expect this from you, trust emerges organically in your relationships. This leads to team members trusting each other’s decisions and sailing through processes without question.
Point #3: Ensure that it’s Reliably Consistent.
“At its most basic level, trust is about the work that needs to get done. To trust someone means to be confident that they will follow through on their responsibilities,” writes Amy Jen Su in the Harvard Business Review. This is about both reliability (they do it well) and consistency (they do it well over and over). If you find yourself unable to trust a colleague’s consistency, you should find a way to identify it, and then respectfully address it together. The process may prove to be empowering for both of you.
Point #4: Make It A Currency.
Creating a Culture of Trust in the Workplace
When it comes down to it, empowering others to trust each other doesn’t only create a stronger team; it is a mark of a successful leader who shows how to trust by effectively trusting his/her team.
The Bottom Line
You can’t build a culture of trust by just talking about it. It’s necessary for team members to actively identify their roles, identify how their roles line up with their colleagues’ roles, commit to letting others do their own jobs, and conversely, reliably do their jobs well over and over, one responsibility at a time. After several successful collaborations, teams will gradually develop trust, and this will improve trust across the entire organization.