Leadership / 03.10.21
Why Trust Matters and How to Build Trust at Work
Building a successful team takes self-awareness and courage; it also takes empathy, listening and trust.
Trust is when you can depend on something or someone. Yes, this is a simple definition, but even so, trust is often elusive, especially trust at work.
Patrick Lencioni, author of “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and founder of the Table Group, describes trust in two ways:
- Predictive trust
- Vulnerability-based trust
Predictive trust is usually built over time — from experience. An example of Predictive Trust is when I can count on (or predict) what you will say or do in a certain circumstance. For example, if my partner asks, “Do you want ice cream?” he can trust I will say, “Yes please.”
Vulnerability-based trust is when you and I feel safe saying something like, “I don’t know,” “I made a mistake” or “I am sorry” and we know we will still be treated with respect — not embarrassed or attacked. Vulnerability trust means you can be in a meeting and suggest a course of action or idea and you will not fear you may be laughed at or mocked. I believe vulnerability trust is more personal — more tender.
Based on the Difficult Conversations training I do with clients, I would say vulnerability trust is also where someone can say to me, “You messed up,” “You are letting the team down” or “I can’t give you what you want,” and I will stay open and keep listening because I trust the other person is sharing information in good faith and likely for my benefit, even if it is difficult and/or disappointing for me to hear. Vulnerability trust is where two people can discuss sensitive topics and even disagree, but stay present and keep doing their best work, moving forward to find solutions instead of assigning blame to setbacks and gaps. It is when team members can continue a discussion without being defensive or shutting down.
How to Develop Productive, Trustworthy Teams
The following are two ways leaders can build trust within their team. Then, at the end of this article, I quickly reference 11 more ways to create a safe, trusting workplace culture.
But before I go any further, I want to be perfectly clear that not all leaders have the title “leader.” In many big and small ways, leadership responsibilities are often shared between co-workers depending on what is needed by the team and the project at that moment. For example, imagine being a production manager and going into your first meeting for a new production your theater will be hosting. In all likelihood, you will have representatives from the ticket office, marketing, set design, costume, finance and more at that meeting. To have a successful event, you have to depend on everyone to lead in areas of their specialty by sharing information and experience. You also need the team to trust each other so they will ask questions, discuss options and make the final decision.
Here are two of the most important ways to build trust at work:
- The quickest way to build vulnerability trust on a team is for the leader to demonstrate it. Otherwise, why would a team trust their leader if the leader never trusted or respected their team/team members? The best leaders quickly acknowledge when they need help and (equally importantly) their mistakes. Trusted leaders don’t take control of every situation; they don’t pretend they are all-knowing, and they don’t get defensive when asked a question or if advice is offered. Team members gain confidence when leaders are honest and respectful and demonstrate it is OK to speak up when they have a question and/or an opinion. They start thinking things like, “Since my leader is honest and up front with me, I can see it is OK for me to be honest and upfront with them,” and “There are things I can do and things I cannot do; the important thing is to ask each other for help.”
- Another way to build vulnerability trust is to give credit to others. A trustworthy leader will not think twice before saying something like, “I know you have been working on this, and while I think you are doing well, it is a long journey and I do hope you stick with it,” or “I know bringing your concerns to me was not easy, and I want to acknowledge that. I am pleased we can be honest and open.”
Of course, vulnerability trust also strengthens relationships between co-workers. The important thing to know is that this works — it really, really works! I have worked with leaders who show disconnected individuals how to trust each other, turning them into highly productive and highly loyal teams that have a renewed loyalty to each other and the organization. I have also seen great teams disintegrate when a great leader leaves and a weak leader replaces them.
11 Ways to Create a Safe, Trusting Workplace Culture
Here are 11 ways leaders and teams create a safe, trusting work culture (yes, some of these mean we have to be vulnerable, but if we are not willing to be, it sends a signal that others cannot be either):
- Eliminate disparaging talk and gossip. We have to all feel safe and that we are being open, honest, respectful and respected.
- Be transparent and honest about goals, challenges and news. Share “what” and “why.”
- Know your preferred work style and strengths and take time to understand and appreciate another’s work styles and strengths. Myers-Briggs and SuccessFinder are two great tools to use, learn from and share with your team.
- Take time to learn about each other but do not push if people want to be more private than you.
- Share your successes and also share your failures — this gives others permission to make mistakes
- Admit when you are wrong, make mistakes and readily apologize.
- Acknowledge and celebrate the successes of others.
- Listen to others and take their advice — help them be proud by giving them credit for their ideas and experience.
- Be willing to learn from each other. Leaders especially need to demonstrate they do not know it all and are willing to learn from their team.
- Do not make assumptions about people’s behavior or actions. Watch your conscious and unconscious biases, especially concerning challenging news.
- Do not hold grudges. Deal with situations, learn from them and move on. Be an example.
It takes courage and bravery to build trust, especially vulnerability trust. There will be times you wish you didn’t, but as Brené Brown says, “If you choose courage, you will absolutely know disappointment, setback and even heartbreak. That’s why we call it courage.” I promise you, trusting yourself and others gives you a unique strength.
While it is possible for great teams to form without a strong leader, the most productive, most loyal teams exist when a strong leader creates a safe, trusting, transparent workspace where team members feel they belong and are treated with dignity and respect. The beauty is, when you have trust, you can have conflict. I don’t mean conflict like wars and fighting; I mean discussions, perhaps even loud, passionate discussions that show respect and appreciation. Everyone in the live event/ticketing industry will know this is especially important when “the show must go on” and an unexpected challenge means you need all hands on deck to find solutions that will have the best possible outcome for your ticket holders.
To end, I want to leave you with this one thought. I wish I could remember where I read it and who to credit; I am not even sure I am quoting it right, but here it goes, “You cannot trust when you have to sacrifice respectful honesty in order to protect and feed someone ego.” Please, do not be the person with an ego that others have to protect.
Bruce Mayhew is a professional development trainer, executive coach and conference speaker who has spoken at a number of INTIX Annual Conferences. Mayhew specializes in soft skills like leadership and new leadership development, motivation skills, generational differences, difficult conversations training, change management, time management and email etiquette. Learn more at www.brucemayhewconsulting.com.
Tags: Leadership , Workplace , Contributed Content