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10 Best Tips for Building Trust in the Workplace

Building Trust in the Workplace requires teamwork and communication

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.

Building trust in the workplace is actually easier than you might think, though it does take work and some time. Below are 10 actionable tips to help you build trust with your teammates, as well as the three stages of trust that an organization can experience.

10 Tips for Building Trust

  1. Trust yourself and your teammates.
  2. Assume positive intent.
  3. Create cross-functional teams.
  4. Problem-solve together.
  5. Follow through with commitments.
  6. Support everyone on the team to be the best they can be.
  7. Communicate with intention.
  8. Get clear on desired outcomes.
  9. Be honest with yourself and your teammates.
  10. Ask for help and offer help.

Create a vision that everyone can support

10 Tips for Building Trust in the Workplace

  1. Trust yourself and your teammates.

Whenever you want to build trust with someone else, you must build trust with yourself first. Trust yourself to be able to do your work well, to be able to communicate effectively, and to care about both the job at hand as well as your teammates.

Trusting your teammates is also of paramount importance. We often think that people need to earn our trust by proving that they’re trustworthy, but this is actually less effective than doing it the other way around. When we show our teammates that we trust them, they rise to the occasion to follow through on that trust. When we mistrust our teammates, it creates an environment of resentment, anxiety, and frustration, in which everyone either feels like they’re not good enough or like they’re being taken advantage of. Deciding to trust is the first step to building it.

  1. Assume positive intent.

Assuming positive intent is an important part of building trust. When we become paranoid or mistrustful ourselves, we can’t build trust with our team because we assume people are taking advantage of us, just trying to get ahead, or not caring about us in some other way. We may also assume they don’t care about the work. The truth is, we never know what’s going on in people’s heads or in their personal lives outside of work. Assuming that our teammates are doing the best they can and that any discomfort in the relationship isn’t personal is the first step to building trust between teammates. Assume positive intent and when needed, ask for clarity and communicate about how you’re feeling.

  1. Create cross-functional teams.

Cross-functional teams are fabulous for building trust within an organization because each department has a different function and perspective within the organization. Many trust breakdowns happen because one department is making decisions without consulting the other departments, causing a ripple effect of unexpected consequences. When teams can work cross-functionally, these negative ripple effects are minimized and the organization starts running more smoothly as a whole with fewer breakdowns. Read the below section “The Three Stages of Trust in an Organization” to understand this more fully.

  1. Problem-solve together.

Problem-solving together is one of the best ways to build trust within a team. When you problem-solve, you take ownership for desired outcomes and execution, and doing it together allows everyone to utilize their unique skills and creativity. Because everyone has a different way of thinking and doing things and everyone sees the organization differently, this is extremely effective for both removing obstacles to desired outcomes as well as building trust between teams. It can even be fun!

  1. Follow through with commitments.

This one may seem obvious, but following through with commitments is a huge way to build trust among teammates, mainly because not following through with commitments is one of the biggest ways to erode trust. If you aren’t able to follow through with the commitments you made or if you need help, make sure to surface this to the team early so they can support you or help problem-solve another avenue to achieving the outcomes you’re looking for.

  1. Support everyone on the team to be the best they can be. 

Being a supportive team member means helping each other to be the best. When I played baseball as a kid and my pitching wasn’t as good as it could be, my teammates spent hours with me to help me get better. This is what being a supportive teammate looks like. Help each other improve based on individual and team goals.

  1. Communicate with intention.

We communicate all day everyday, but oftentimes we don’t think about it. Communicating with intention means thinking about what we want to say before we say it, refraining from communicating with reactivity, and being clear with what we’re trying to say or ask for. Communicating with intention can reduce the chance of misunderstanding or unintentional bad will between teammates.

  1. Get clear on desired outcomes.

Having clear desired outcomes as a team is a huge component of building trust because the team needs to know where they’re going and what they’re trying to accomplish and achieve as a team. If the team isn’t clear on desired outcomes, everyone on the team might have a different idea of what the end goal is, which can cause confusion and upset as each person tries to separately do their best only to end up in conflict. Get clear as a team on desired outcomes as well as execution to build trust.

  1. Be honest with yourself and your teammates.

Honesty isn’t always easy, but it always helps build trust. Being honest with yourself means being truthful about what you have time for, what you’re willing to commit to, and what you enjoy doing. When we’re not honest with ourselves, we can overcommit to others only to let down and disappoint in the end.

Once you’re honest with yourself, it’s important to be honest with your teammates. This could mean having a difficult conversation or just sharing where you’re at during a stressful time. Honest, open communication is necessary for building trust.

  1. Ask for help and offer help.

Sometimes people don’t like to ask for help because they’re afraid of being seen as weak or incapable. The truth is, we all need help sometimes. Don’t be afraid to ask teammates for help, and to offer help in return. Offering help is a great way to build trust because teammates know they can count on you and that you care, and they’ll be willing to offer you help in return.

The Three Stages of Trust in an Organization

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.

Cross-Functional teams communicate well together

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 1: 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 2: 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 3: 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.

Summary

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.

This article was first published as a Forbes Coaches Council Post.

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