High-trust cultures outperform low-trust ones by 286%
“Trust is the glue that holds teams and organisations together” – Brené Brown, Dare to Lead
High trust cultures outperform low-trust ones by 286% in both stock price and dividends).(1)
Former CEO of Westpac Gail Kelly knows the value of building trust in the workplace.
Kelly told the authors of CEO Excellence that trust and collaboration helped progress her vision during the global financial crisis. She worked to build trust at off-sites (keep reading for how), and attributes her success to having high demands on teamwork.
If one of the world’s best leaders (Kelly doubled her company’s value from $38 billion to $79 billion) works to build trust, we should too. Yet only 6% of top HR executives think their executive team operates as a well-integrated team. (2)
Methods to build trust can be learned. Many global speakers and authors we’ve featured at Growth Faculty research methods for building trust, and we share some below.
Let’s break it down – What does trust mean in the workplace?
“Most people believe they’re completely trustworthy, yet they only trust a handful of their colleagues.” – Brené Brown, Dare to Lead
Let’s face it, building trust is at the centre of how to improve workplace culture. Without trust, colleagues can’t be their true selves at work, won’t share their best ideas, and won’t admit they’re struggling.
Brené Brown has a chapter on trust in her book Dare to Lead. She uses a definition of trust from the Thin Book of Trust by Charles Feltman: “Trust is choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.”
Distrust is defined as: “What is important to me is not safe with you in this situation, or really in any situation.”
Put bluntly, without efforts to build trust at work, team members feel unsafe. They feel threatened in how they see themselves and others. This leads to siloed behaviour – everyone for themselves.
How can teams work with people they don’t feel totally safe with?
Why Does Trust Matter in Business?
Gartner says how much employees trust their organisation is a great barometer to measure employee engagement and productivity levels.
And it says business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared with business units with miserable workers. (3)
Why the difference in profit? In our masterclass with Stephen M.R. Covey, co-author of Trust and Inspire, we learned that a lack of trust makes things move slower and cost more.
You know this makes sense. Without trust, team members won’t share or communicate well, slowing down tasks and projects. They won’t own up to mistakes, leading to scrapped projects or cost blowouts.
In our interview with Patrick Lencioni on his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, we learn that once trust is established, teams can feel comfortable engaging in honest healthy conflict. That’s great for building high performing teams.
And as for retention strategies, it's good to know high-trust environments have 50% lower staff turnover than their competitors, reports Practice Business. (4)
9 effective ways to build trust in the workplace
As we list out effective ways to build trust, know this: Google’s own leadership coach, the late Bill Campbell (who also coached Steve Jobs), had one trait at the top of his list: Trust
“Bill knew that to get to great leadership you needed to build trust,” former Google executive Jonathan Rosenberg said in an interview with The Growth Faculty. Teams who trust each other and their leader tend to outperform those who don’t.
Here are some ways he and our global speakers suggest you go about it.
Have the courage to be vulnerable
The path to building trust starts with vulnerability. It’s earned in collective moments of vulnerability over time.
Most people think that we build trust with someone first before we are vulnerable with them. However, Dr Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly and Dare to Lead, told us in an interview and at our event that vulnerability comes before trust.
It’s a case of ‘you go first and I’ll be more inclined to trust you.’
If we go back to Gail Kelly of Westpac, her off-sites used this knowledge to build trust.
“I’m prepared to be very vulnerable and asked others to do the same,” she says in CEO Excellence, “We developed a little book called ‘The Story of Us’ and each of us had a page about what strengths we had and the things we were working on.”
She said it really helped to build trust.
Building trust question: Do you go first whenever there’s an opportunity to be vulnerable and so build trust with team members?
Ask for help
Brené Brown did a study on building trust in the workplace.
Her research team asked 1000 leaders what behaviours in their team members most built their trust. The most common building trust behaviour given? ‘Asking for help.’
Surprised, Brené realised this played out in her own team.
“To team members I trust the most I will hand over important projects because I know if they’re stuck…they will come back to me…that makes me feel safe in delegation.”
Kylie explained how Google’s Project Aristotle found the #1 factor in high performance was high psychological safety. “What risks did you take this week?” is asked in some Google meetings.
Building trust question: Is asking for help encouraged in your organisation, is it explicitly valued? Or is there a culture of blaming, shaming, and a lack of visibility of leaders?
Practice Honesty and Transparency
It’s gutsy to go with honesty.
Adobe was honest with investors and employees when it pivoted to a subscription model for its software. It explained revenues and profits would decline for years as the new business model bedded in.
Here’s what happened. Honest and transparent information about the change meant the stock price went up even as the company lost revenue.
Charlene Li, author of The Disruption Mindset, says transparency and dialogue stops distrust in its tracks.
“Being open about the hopes, fears, and realities that everyone will face during the transformation helps to dispel any perceptions..[of]..hidden motivations.”
Building trust question: When you think ‘There’s no way I can say/do/think that, why not go deeper into your assumptions? Why can’t you be honest and transparent in this instance?
If someone’s inconsistent, we think of them as undependable, unreliable, flaky.
It’s deeply rooted in our psyche. In the 1940s a psychiatrist named John Bowlby explored attachment theory in infants. He discovered children need to feel a secure connection to at least one primary caregiver to feel comfortable and confident to explore the outside world. Without it, children become fearful of new experiences.
Put simply, it’s hard to trust inconsistent people. Consistency is important for teams to feel safe with others.
Lt. David Marquet, author of Turn the Ship Around and Leadership is Language, says trust is “transparency over time.” We consistently say what we mean.
Building trust question: Are you consistent in your manner and actions?
We interviewed Daniel Coleman, author of The Culture Code, who says one misconception about highly successful cultures is that they are happy, light hearted places.
His research shows something different. They have energy but there is also high candour feedback, uncomfortable truth-telling as the teams solve hard problems together.
A study of students given feedback found that the words “I’m giving you this feedback because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them” boosted effort and performance.
That’s because belonging cues (essential to trust) in the sentence say this is a safe place to give effort.
Building trust questions: Do you respect your team members enough to give them feedback? Does your feedback says ‘You are part of the group’ ‘This group is special’ ‘I believe you can reach those standards’? Do you encourage feedback on yourself?
Show your appreciation
“81% of working adults say they would work harder if their boss was more grateful for their work.” – Leading with Gratitude
During the 2008 global financial crisis lubricant company WD-40 former CEO Garry Ridge wanted to increase trust and reduce fear among his employees.
· He decided to increase its investment in employee learning and development.
· He instructed his managers to regularly express sincere appreciation to their ‘tribe.’
Two years later the company reported its best financials in its 57-year-history. To this day employee engagement is so high, 99% of its people say they love to work there.
Leading with Gratitude authors Adrian Gostock and Chester Elton told us in interview that gratitude increases feelings of belonging, which, as we know is important for trust. It can be a huge motivation and productivity booster, and it costs nothing!
Building trust question: Are you showing appreciation regularly and for incremental progress, not just at the finish line?
Communicate clearly and openly
Trust thrives where there is clear, unambiguous communication.
As the pilot-in-command of QF32, Richard de Crespigny, author of QF32 and Fly!, told Growth Faculty pilots have to have absolute trust in their team.
When a catastrophic explosion disabled their aircraft in 2010, communication was a key component in keeping the 469 passengers and crew alive.
“With so much going on in a crisis, it’s crucial you don’t forget to communicate.”
Richard says to put yourself in the shoes of the audience.
“Think what their concerns are likely to be in the circumstances. Then tell them everything they need to know at that time. Spell out everything.”
He uses the acronym N.I.T.S.: State the nature of the problem. State your intentions for dealing with it. Estimate the time it will take. Clearly explain any special requirements.
Building trust question: Do you communicate what’s in your head clearly and often to your team?
Build a culture of accountability
“Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about the team.” – fictional CEO Kathryn Petersen.
In Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team fictional CEO Kathryn Petersen explains how avoidance of accountability happens.
“Some people are hard to hold accountable because they’re helpful. Others because they get defensive. Others because they are intimidating.”
But to keep trust, teams must be able to rely on each other. And trust must be present so team members feel safe to hold each other to account.
“Push with respect….but push anyway. And never hold back.”
Building trust question: Do you improve your team by holding one another accountable? Are you encouraging more difficult conversations?
Build an inclusive culture
“Feeling included is where you can stand out but also fit in.”- Dr Stefanie Johnson
One way to build a positive workplace culture where trust can thrive is to make everyone feel included.
An inclusive culture feels like family, says Daniel Coyle in The Culture Code.
“When you receive a belonging cue the amygdala….turns from an angry guard dog into an energetic guide dog.”
Daniel says a steady stream of signals of safe connection say ‘We are close, we are safe, we share a future.’ Trust is built on this stream of inclusivity.
Inclusify author Dr. Stefanie K. Johnson says work attendance improves in inclusive cultures and inclusive companies outperform other companies by 8:1.
“Inclusifying is the leadership skill of tomorrow, but you can capitalize on it today. It starts with understanding the two most basic human drives: to be unique and to belong.”
Building trust question: Are you sending out lots of belonging signals to your team? Do you make others feel accepted as they are?
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Building trust in the workplace is critical for any organisation to function optimally. Each of our ways to build trust also helps with enjoyment, engagement, and productivity.
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1. Watson Wyatt report
2. CEO Excellence by McKinsey Senior Partners Carolyn Dewar, Scott Keller, Vikram Malhotra, 2022.
3. 9 Questions That Should Be in Every Employee Engagement Survey, 2022, Gartner
4.How to get the most out of your workday, 2022, Practice Business
Various global speakers and authors featured in Growth Faculty live virtual events