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By Mark Samuel –
When trust in the workplace breaks down between individuals or teams, relationships suffer — poor communication, hiding, defensive posturing, blame and other forms of aggressive and passive-aggressive behaviors ensue. The assumption is that the basis of that mistrust is in those relationship challenges. However, those are only the symptoms of mistrust, not the root of it.
The root cause of trust breaking down is rarely bad relationships. Trust in the workplace is initiated by understanding, respecting and adhering to commitments, agreements and expectations. When it’s perceived that commitments, agreements or expectations are not being kept, we lose trust in the other person’s ability to come through. In more extreme cases, we take it personally as a show of disrespect for our relationship, level of authority and dedication to our common cause. As a result, our communication is affected and we become punitive or overly cautious in the relationship. We might begin doing workarounds that bypass the involved person to get our work and goals accomplished. At this point, the problem is not only an execution breakdown but also a relationship breakdown.
If you solve the breakdown at the relationship level — looking at different styles, asking for forgiveness, enhancing the level of respect we have for each other — but don’t address the misunderstanding or lack of alignment on commitments, agreements or expectations, the breakdown in trust will resurface.
Not having mutual understanding of commitments, agreements and expectations is the first basis of breakdown. The second basis is that we have agreement on commitments and expectations but not a clear understanding of the barriers, constraints and roadblocks for keeping those commitments and expectations.
Functional silos keep us from proactively understanding the impact of commitments and expectations on conflicting priorities, constraints and obstacles to our success because every functional team is living in their own world with their own pressures and constraints and is not privy to differing pressures and constraints of other teams.
One of the keys for increasing trust in the workplace is taking the time to understand commitments and expectations along with the potential breakdowns before they take place, so there are no surprises or unrealistic expectations around the original commitment that could cause a crisis breakdown later. To overcome the silo nature of different functional areas, there is a process for building trust over time that not only prevents unnecessary breakdown but ultimately speeds up your execution and performance significantly.
Three Stages For Building Trust In The Workplace
When we talk about trust in the workplace, people often think of two options: no trust between departments, leading to breakdown and subsequent frustration, or inclusion of everyone, leading to slow decision-making and subsequent frustration. But building trust actually goes through three stages, and those are just the first two.
Stage 0: No Trust In The Workplace And Individual Silos
When there’s no trust between functional teams, people feel like they’re being left out. Employees of an organization might be frustrated about not being included in decision-making or problem-solving issues that affect their departments. Breakdowns occur left and right as decisions are made hastily by one team, only to have unintended and negative consequences on another that then need to be fixed.
This is what I call Stage 0 of trust, where there is none. It’s a stage of ignorance, and while it might seem quicker and more efficient than getting everyone’s input on everything, it’s actually far more time-consuming in the long run.
Stage 1: Inclusion Of Everyone
When we realize that making decisions without consulting each other is counterproductive, costly and causes deteriorating relationships, the move is to include everyone in decision-making and problem-solving.
Problem-solving together around priorities is the only way to learn about each other’s functional areas. Information-sharing gives you only a passive update; problem-solving allows you to put yourself in another department’s shoes, learning their constraints, dynamics and the systems and processes within that department.
The whole purpose of the problem-solving sessions around priorities is not just about the priorities but also to grow people to understand how the business operates on a practical level. Leaders of functional teams typically manage their operating area blind, or without knowledge of how other functional teams work and what they need in order to be successful. This is not only inefficient, but it’s also very damaging to trust. Once leaders can start to include everyone in problem-solving and decision-making, backtracking and fixing unintended consequential issues that arise from siloed decision-making begin to drop substantially.
This stage can be very time-consuming and cumbersome, but it’s better than having no trust at all where everyone is divided.
Stage 2: Representation Of Everyone
In the final stage of trust, inclusion has been achieved and leaders have begun working with each other and with each other’s functional teams. At this point, inclusion is replaced with representation.
Representation is the true goal and groundwork for trust. In the beginning, it’s inclusive because there’s no one who can represent anyone else, so it’s vital to hear everyone. But in the long run, most people are more concerned about being represented than they are about being included. In this stage, the needs and impact on other areas are included and represented, but not every leader needs to be present to make a decision because the decision-maker understands the needs and constraints of all departments.
With this level of trust, decision-making, problem-solving and movement on priority outcomes go extremely quickly because the entire organization is seen and understood on a practical, functional level by all leaders. There’s no need to waste time including everyone, and there won’t be any wasted time in the aftermath fixing breakdowns caused by blind decision-making.
Cross-functional problem-solving is the best way to build trust in the workplace, following the three stages listed above. When we are able to work together and truly trust one another, we become high-functioning, accountable, outcome-driven teams and organizations.in
This article was first published as a Forbes Coaches Council Post.