Why Trust?

Trust is an interesting thing, without it our world would be impossible to navigate yet we rarely focus on its development in our firms.

Think for a moment about how and when you trust. Before you boarded your last aeroplane did you ask to see the pilot’s credentials or did you trust that she was qualified? When you went to the doctor, did you ask to see his memberships or did you trust that his skills were relevant? And did you ask to see the ingredients list before you put petrol in the tank of your car?

You likely trusted the people in control of these situations. Your combination of past experience and knowledge of social norms and sanctions meant that you were confident that these 3 situations would proceed without incident.

Now imagine what your day would look like if you not trust. You would worry: about the car starting, about the loyalty of your lover, about the house being robbed whilst you were out, about your clothes being in the wardrobe to use in the morning. Your day would be filled with worry and you would get nothing done. It would be an unpleasant time. You would not want to get out of bed in the morning – the day would be just too hard.

Now think about the workday of you and your colleagues. Trust and distrust will occur at different times: we trust that our email will get through to the right person, but we distrust Judy to deliver her work as promised.

The more frequently distrust occurs, the harder and less satisfying the day will be, with a direct negative impact on productivity. How could it be otherwise? Time spent worrying is time not available for work.

You and your team mates are together for 40 hours or more each week and have many opportunities to build and lose trust. Trust is an asset that needs to be tended with care, much like an exotic plant that produces so much joy. Leave it without sustenance and it wilts and possibly dies. When people are close, as they are at work, actions that create distrust are painful and disruptive. Trust takes a long time to win, and an instant to lose.

Distrust and betrayal are closely linked. Not doing as promised is a betrayal. Betrayal hurts the team, like it hurts a lover. Life will be strained until trust is rebuilt.

That time the Joe promised to fulfil a project by a given date, and didn’t and the team were forced to work over the weekend, was a time of betrayal. The time when he said that “This year I am going to do things differently”, and didn’t, he betrayed again. Each betrayal damages both the relationship and his ability to motivate the team to step up when it’s needed. His team retreats from the hurt and disappointment and loses full functionality. Everyone loses.

So what is trust?

“Trust … refers to the extent to which people have confidence in both the ability of others to undertake a task, and their willingness to do so in a manner that is consistent with the team’s goals”[i]

It is a perception which is built from past experience and inherent beliefs. It is dynamic and situational so will change as knowledge and situation change.

For trust to exist an individual needs to believe that the other is trustworthy which requires evidentiary support that the individual who is to be trusted has the capability and intention to fulfil his responsibilities.

So how can trust be built and maintained?

Consider these elements when you next choose the members of a team, or choose someone to join your firm.

Do they have the capability to fulfil the responsibilities of this role, and if not is it desirable to tool them up or would it be better to bring in someone else? Remember it is not only their capability that is being tested here, it is also the capability of the system to encourage trust.

Do I know how they have acted in a situation like this? Does anyone else? What went right then and what could go wrong now? How will others react in both circumstances? And how will the team dynamics change as members come and go – as they will, no team lasts forever?

Do I understand their motivations? Do I know their long term goals? What knowledge do I have to marry their self interest and the group interest to result in wins all around.

Is the picture of the outcomes of the project identical in the minds of all, are the priorities the same, and the process to achieve the goals known?

How frequently will the skills, motivations, wins and losses (and how these were dealt with), of the team and its individuals be captured and communicated so that trust is tended carefully and grown? Frequency is important. Want confidence to be built? Then communicate every 30 days or less.

Regardless of whether it is picking up dinner on the way home from work, or being part of a team that creates the second Panama Canal, all these elements are required for trust to exist. They create a transparency that sets out standards and uncovers misunderstandings, builds confidence that things will be done as expected, so creating a fertile ground for success.

 Where trust is high, the workplace is fun as people come together and support one another. Creativity and innovation flourish as stress converts into a challenge not a barrier. There is no need to worry about whether other people will do their jobs, because they will, so everyone’s job is simply to get on and do what they do best. The firm prospers and attracts the best talent. Having a high trust environment is worth it.

“…the complexity of the future world is reduced by the act of trust. In trusting, one engages in action as though there were only certain possibilities in the future.”[ii].

By building trust we thrive, as does our firm. So what are you doing to build the trust levels in your firm?


[i] Crowder R. M, Robinson M. A, Hughes H. P. N, Sim Y (2012) The development of an agent-based modeling framework for simulating engineering team work. IEEE Transactions on systems, Man, and Cybernetics – Part A: Systems and humans, Vol 42, No. 6, 1426.

[ii] Klas Luhmann, Trust and Power, Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 1979, 20.

By Jennifer Bishop

Jennifer is a strategy implementation coach who helps leaders turn their strategies into results.

She assists executives and business owners to achieve goals without delay regardless of whether those goals are increases in profit, productivity, leadership skills or something else. Her services are Business and Executive Coaching, Group Facilitation, Strategic Planning, and advising on Board Governance.

 To find out how she can help you, call +61 439 520 182 or email.

If you want to build the trust in your firm then contact Jennifer to discuss how it can be done.