These days it seems we’re engaged in a global trust fall and failing spectacularly. Pandemic realities have fed mistrust and anxiety and public trust is at record lows. Nevertheless, one shining “winner” emerges-- business.
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2021, business is globally the most trusted institution versus governments, NGOs, and media. Trust in ‘my employer’ and ‘my employer CEO’ also rose to the top. It would seem, the public has squarely placed its trust at work.
Many companies-- like Microsoft, Spotify, and American Express-- are making headlines for extending or permanently changing their remote working policies. Foundational within this shift is an intrinsic trusting mindset.
So what does this mean for your L&D needs? Leading and working within remote teams is now a given. The importance of building trust in teams has never been higher. Set against this backdrop, it's clear that to create better working teams, the task is actually to improve the individual employees’ skills that will make remote work workable.
Why is it so Important for Employers to Trust Employees?
Much has been written on the impact of trust in the workplace. Trust and results are inextricably linked; it’s that simple. Trust within an organization leads to higher levels of productivity, effectiveness, and engagement.
Working at work is not just about doing the work. There’s a human factor that ultimately influences the team’s effectiveness, impacts conflict, and affects team dynamics and managerial relationships.
Building Trust in Teams Creates a “Win-Win”
Common among employees who feel trusted by their employers is a heightened sense of motivation and loyalty to the company.
“Feeling trusted makes me perform better and feel more motivated since I believe they honestly care about how I perform!” (Catherine at Prime Plus Mortgages)
As a psychological safe place, a trusting workplace also becomes an incubator for innovation and creativity. Erdin Beshimov, a Lecturer at MIT and a Founder and Director of MIT Bootcamps relates this concept to his own workplace, MIT:
“What people at MIT understand very well is that innovation, contrary to the myth of the solitary genius, is a collective process. It happens in teams and requires fluid collaboration. Interestingly, working virtually has enabled even more collaboration, because the transaction cost of moving from one meeting to another has been reduced to just a click. This has all served to bolster the trust between MIT and its community.”
Mistrust in the Workplace is Inherently Unhealthy
A lack of trust in the workplace is the virus that creates a diseased workplace culture. Mistrust often begins at the top with leaders and then infiltrates the rest of the team, leading to an unhealthy cycle of mistrust, lack of communication and transparency. Employee engagement and productivity are ultimately affected.
“One of my ex-bosses (at a previous company) was a control freak and micromanager. Now, I hear from my co-workers that he is using spying apps like time doctor etc to keep an eye on his remote team-- the software takes screenshots of people's screens and sends them to him. He was strictly against working from home. Anyway, this was a toxic workplace culture and I quit after spending about 9 months!” (Kriti Spinoff who is now happy in her new job at an eCom startup, NOVOS)
Recovering lost trust is not easy. Within teams, trust is multi-directional: the team must trust the leader, the leader must trust the team and team members must trust each other. These factors weigh even heavier when all actors are asked to trust remotely.
The Harvard Business Review reports managers are struggling to manage their people working remotely. Many workers are left feeling untrusted or micromanaged. Managers who struggle leading remotely often have excessively controlling and low-trusting bosses themselves. They themselves may need coaching in practicing positive leadership.
What are Some Ways to Build Trust in the Workplace?
Trust lies at the heart of any strong relationship. Building trust in a team cannot happen by simply telling managers they need to trust their people. Especially in these remote times, managers need to learn or to improve upon their delegation, communication, and employee empowerment skills and equip their employees with greater self-autonomy. There’s an adage (not really, but you’ll understand the reference), “Teach a micromanager to trust and the team will ultimately thrive.”
Worker empowerment consequently promotes higher motivation and overall performance. Workers will feel more positively and worry less when taking short breaks. In sum, building trust in teams empowers team members to work collaboratively, respectfully, and harmoniously, sometimes teamwork makes the dream work.
So, how to build trust in a team? There are generally three elements of trust to hone in on when thinking how to approach building trust in the workplace. Managers and workers alike can assess their deficiencies and determine in which area(s) to focus their training and development to become a more trusting colleague:
Personal Character. Identified as the most important facet of trust, a co-worker should be able to present their softer, more human side. Just as in life, you have to show you’re a good person to be trustworthy. Managers, in particular, should learn how to foster and maintain positive relationships-- balancing results with concern for others.
- Professional Competency. Noone likes to feel that their colleague-- or worse, their manager-- doesn’t have the skills to do what’s required. Perhaps a knowledge booster is in order or just a change in communication style to better present judgement and digest understanding.
- Consistent Modeling. Model the behavior you want to see for your team. Be consistent and be obvious. Learning and workplace culture changes only come with visibility, repetition, and time. Being consistent shows colleagues that this behavior is a habit not a passing notion.