Last week we looked at psychological safety at work and identified a crucial factor in creating a safe workplace—trust. Trust is a somewhat intangible concept that is nevertheless highly valuable—and easily damaged. Are your employees or team members confident that they can express themselves without fear of repercussions?
Distrust within an organisation can manifest in many ways:
Team members who don’t trust their colleagues and avoid collaboration
Employees who are suspicious of company intentions/decisions
Customers who have lost faith in a company’s service
Do you see examples of favouritism, secrecy, unethical behaviour or gossiping in your organisation? The flow-on effects of these behaviours can be damaging—loss of productivity, surprise resignations, negative customer reviews and a drop in business income.
The benefits of a trustworthy company culture are undeniable, including:
Teams that work well together and get things done quicker.
Innovation that encourages an honest and open sharing of ideas
Less employee turnover
Ironically your clients may have a better feel for your company’s ‘vibe’ than you do. Disgruntled employees may confide their frustrations with external customers rather than raise the issue with their leadership team. As a result, that customer will also begin to form a negative impression of your organisation and its trustworthiness.
How can you build trust at work?
Rebuilding a trusting culture begins at the top. Leaders need to be credible, honest and accessible. Their words and actions need to be consistent and reliable. Providing safe channels for communication is vital so that employees can have their say without fear of negative consequences.
While team-building exercises might elicit groans from some quarters, they are undeniably helpful in helping generate stronger inter-personal communications. Choose activities that allow all members to contribute and are not focused purely on one set of skills, e.g. physical dexterity. Activities such as helping out a charity can provide a common goal that everyone can get behind.
Actions speak louder
Trust is a deep-seated feeling reinforced through positive behaviours and signals. Words are not enough - people need to see actions and non-verbal cues that demonstrate genuine change. For leaders, this means doing what you promise to do, listening to your people and acting competently. Simple changes like positive body language and showing empathy can make an appreciable difference.
Technology can have an isolating effect on people, and the trend to work from home can further alienate employees and cultivate distrust. HR and leadership teams must ensure these people are kept in the loop. Schedule activities that encourage people to meet and talk to others outside their immediate group. Office design and layout can significantly influence communication and a person’s sense of being part of a team.
The key to maintaining a healthy, trustworthy environment is to deal with issues quickly, openly and fairly. Likewise, good behaviour should be recognised and rewarded. An organisation that offers transparency, safe communication channels and actively rights wrongs will win employee confidence and establish a strong sense of trust.