Turning Trust Around: Small Steps for Brokering Higher Trust in Your Team

Turning Trust Around: Small Steps for Brokering Higher Trust in Your Team

Trust is a small word that promises big things.

It creates closer knit teams, trusted managers and inspiring leaders. It helps people embrace accountability, break down silos and turn destructive conflict into constructive creativity. It skyrockets innovation, financial performance and staff motivation and it can turn a regular job into a career highlight.

So why isn't trust rife at work? Often, it comes down to two simple reasons. 

Reason #1: Living with the status quo is easier than mustering the energy to change it.

We can become so conditioned to 'how it is' that we simply adjust. Like the elephant, who from birth has had their leg tethered to a stake to prevent escape and who, when the ropes are finally removed is so conditioned by the futility of trying and failing that they give up trying. We cope rather than aspire to something better.

We don't understand, or agree with, the decisions made by our senior managers, but we no longer expect to. Our meetings are dry and tedious but we suffer through them until we can get on with our 'real' work. We agree to things we have no intention of doing, or supporting, to avoid having uncomfortable conversations. We work harder, longer and later trying to keep everyone happy and get everything done. We're not happy but we can cope. And if it does all become too much, we'll move on. Hopefully to a place where none of these things happen.

I once faciitated a large, disjointed team to resolve two thorny challenges in 90 minutes that had kept them at loggerheads for months. As they left the workshop (which they had grudgingly attended) they were full of camaraderie. Back in the office, under the pressure of time and the constraints of the wider culture their hard work was undone.

Reason #2: 
Creating game-changing trust requires honesty and vulnerability.

Being honest with ourselves about what is - and isn't - working and what we are - and are not - happy about, is difficult enough. Opening up to others about their - and our role in dysfunction -  takes us to a whole new level of fear and - ultimately - resistance.

It's risky. It's uncomfortable and it's potentially career damaging. No one wants (or is sure about how) to go first. The pain of embarrassment or judgement is very real.


Practicing Vulnerability: Wrap your head around what vulnerability is (honesty, candour and openness) and what it's not (weakness or stupidity). Choose your moments then drop your ego, and your fear, long enough to broach those topics that leave you feeling vulnerable. Navigate the conversation that unfolds with humility, honesty and compassion.

Doing it Together: Building trust requires an effort and enthusiasm we are sometimes too jaded, tired or overwhelmed to muster alone. Create safe spaces to have difficult conversations. Acknowledge people who do. Encourage others to speak up when you sense they have something to say. Have their back when they do, thank them when they have yours. Give them reasons to trust you.

Celebrate Successes & Encourage More: Sometimes we need glimpses of what is possible to restore our faith and reignite our desire. When you see people being courageous, privately recognise it, publicly ackowledge it. Trust needs time to take hold, gather momentum and create the shift that leads to transformative change. Ignite the fire then fan the flames.

Most of all...

Model, champion and encourage the collective courage to have the conversations that are often much easier to ignore (at least in the short term) and you will create the dynamic for trusting relationships. It's when you nurture those relationships, that you unlock the amazing natural consequences other teams and organisations can only dream of.

As any team who has ventured into vulnerability based trust - and persevered - will tell you, it is hard, but not impossible to achieve.

What you learn - and who you become along the way as people and as team members - forever changes how you view your work, the people you work with, and what is possible when you engage from a place of trust.