Find your portal

The role of leaders in building trust within the organization

Trust is the glue that holds relationships together, regardless of their nature. Businesses are made of people and for them, so trust is essential for the organizational culture.

I don't believe this is news to anybody. In over a decade of working in corporate L&D, I’ve seen numerous requests for workshops, training programs, and, most often, team-building activities with the same primary objective: build trust within teams. The blindfolded employee trust falling into their colleagues' arms has terrified HR specialists in charge of work-related injury lawsuits and me quite a bit. It's good exercise, but a little extreme for my taste.

However, we are now in a place where leaders need their team members' trust more than ever. Because, for the most part, they are leading into battle (metaphorically speaking). Trust is vital, yet it can’t be simply asked for; it needs to be built systematically.

Leaders need to understand the nature of trust

Simply asking people for their trust will not work. Perhaps charismatic leaders might get a little of it just because, but that’s just not how it works. Trust needs to be built over time, and, more importantly, it is a mutual thing.

Creating a work environment built on trust means that the people responsible for the foundation understand the framework necessary for a sturdy structure. The Reina Trust Building model identifies three essential aspects of trust. Being mindful of these will provide a common framework and language for moving forward and how success should look like.

These three aspects are:

  • Trust of character – in a relatively popular catchphrase, this is “walk the talk”. As a leader, it is important to keep your word and do what you said you would do. If there are things that you can’t achieve, admit that and commit to something you are more likely to accomplish.
  • Trust of communication – honesty is the best way to gain people’s trust. You need to tell them the truth and take ownership of it. Beating around the bush or avoiding transparency will only lead to disappointment and, quite possibly, small-scale conspiracy theories.
  • Trust of capability – leaders need to show they know what their teams can do, acknowledge their subject matter experts and innovators, and show genuine interest in their input.

Read more: The trifecta of trust in a learning organization

Building trust should start with an initial assessment

Any construction project starts with a feasibility study that shows if it’s all right to erect a building on a certain site. That assessment tells you how deep the foundations would have to be and what kind of scaffolding will be necessary. It’s quite the same when it comes to organizational trust – one has the terrain and knows roughly what to build. Still, you need to figure out how to successfully carry out the project.

The areas that need to be considered are employee engagement and their feedback on internal communication and performance appraisals. Analyzing this data will provide valuable insights into how people feel about their roles in the company, how they perceive that they are treated and how much they believe in the messages that they receive from various leadership levels.

Identifying risk areas and pain points is very important, as this will determine how deep the trust-building programs will have to go and what kind of support will be needed. Since the desired outcome is a major behavioral change, it’s crucial to develop the best actions to accomplish that and set indicators of progress and success.

Read more: What instructional designers need to know about behavioral change

All of these can only come from an in-depth knowledge of the current situation. I can’t stress enough the importance of running this analysis and addressing the real issues instead of choosing a one-size-fits-all program that sounds good but does not respond to genuine organizational needs.

Measure and adjust as you go along

Organizational trust will not happen overnight. Like any behavioral change goal, it takes time, overcoming obstacles, setbacks, and, occasionally, failure. That’s why companies and leaders should treat it as a process rather than a project with a start and end date.

Read more: The neuroscience of trust in a business organization

It’s also not a one-person job or responsibility. Organizational leaders are the main stakeholders, but this is a journey that requires transversal collaboration and checkpoints along the way. Measurement needs to be done at every milestone and if it becomes clear that the initial predictions were a bit off, make some adjustments.

Quantifying behavior is tricky, so it must be clear how this is measured. The help of both the L&D and HR departments will be instrumental in building a genuine culture of trust in the organization.

Wrapping up

With transformation being the number one objective for most businesses, trust is essential. It’s not only a very effective driver of change and innovation, but it’s also a requirement for positive employee engagement and loyalty. Building organizational trust takes time, so the sooner it becomes a genuine priority, the better.