Building Trust in the Workplace
I was fortunate enough this week to attend a meeting of the ODiN group. ODiN stands for Organisation Design, Development & Dynamics Innovation Network and, as the name suggests, they meet on a regular basis to discuss and advance ideas that concern how organisations of people can become more effective.
The focus of this week’s meeting was Developing Trusting Relationships at Work and, very ably, facilitated by Rob Warwick and Alison Donaldson.
Trust is now recognised as vital if organisations are to succeed, and when trust breaks down the consequences can be very serious. Sponsored by Roffey Park, Alison and Rob have been looking into the processes by which people at work develop trust. This session was an opportunity to share their findings and further develop our thinking on what we can do to develop trust in the workplace through a very clever learning experience. For further information on Rob and Alison’s work on trust in the workplace please visit the following link: https://trustingrelationships.wordpress.com
Their paper on Developing Trusting Relationships in the Workplace will also be available on Roffey Park’s website in the very near future.
So what did I learn?
In the spirit of Alison and Rob’s particular and very effective approach to learning I thought I’d share with you some of the thoughts I’ve come away with not to dictate what you might think about how to build trusting relationships at work but rather to provide a foundation for you to have a conversation about trust and what it might mean to you. In other words, don’t take what I say for gospel – just add it to your own thinking and see where you end up.
Hope you find some of it useful!
Our ability to trust is founded on our very individual life experiences & expectations
Placing trust in people is a very complex and very personal thing – we each have own critical view of what is important to us as individuals formed by our own unique life experiences and life requirements and it is those that define the level of trust we place in our relationships.
That means that while we might act in what we think is a trustworthy way that does not mean that everybody will trust us – there is a limit to what we can do as individuals to facilitate a trusting relationship with another person.
Trust in another individual (or even ourselves!) will rarely, if ever, be complete since it relies on complete alignment of all interests in all circumstances.
Trust is therefore more meaningful and more useful to us when expressed in relation to particular expectations, i.e. “I trust that person will/to…” rather than “I trust that person” or even “That person is trustworthy”.
Limited trust based on an alignment of our interests can be achieved but should not be expected to remain static. It will change as our experiences, requirements and interests evolve.
Trusting relationships can be improved upon with greater transparency of our honest intent.
But, greater transparency requires reciprocating trust since it leaves us more vulnerable.
Your employees need to trust your business before they can trust its people
Trust between individuals in the workplace is always framed by the intent of the organisation and the amount of control the organisation has over its people in relation to the delivery of that intent. For example, if short-term profit is the only goal of a business then a manager’s ability to put people before short-term profit will be limited by that profit motive and the control the business has over its people to deliver against the goal – it doesn’t matter that employees might trust their manager not to put them in harm’s way as short-term profit is the God of all of them!
Knowing the intent of an organisation, i.e. what is important to it, and knowing that an organisation will effectively enforce that intent will therefore contribute towards greater understanding between employees and a business and, where the individuals allow, greater alignment of interests.
I think that organisational intent can be effectively defined through the organisation’s mission, vision and values. They can tell us what is important today, where they intend to go and what is important about how we achieve our goals.
Ensuring that an organisations stays true to these commitments is the enforcement that will support the growth of trust in a workplace.
Management can’t guarantee trust – but they can influence it
Even with these conditions in place trust in the workplace will still be heavily reliant on the individuals within the business and what they regard as important.
Trust cannot be controlled absolutely by one party at either an organisational or even an individual level but it can be positively and, I think, significantly influenced.
Beyond Trust towards Inspiration
The power of mission, vision and values would be sadly curtailed if we failed to appreciate the full potential of these seemingly innocuous ideas. A great mission and vision underpinned by truly meaningful values that are lived at all levels of an organisation also has the power to move people from mundane compliance towards inspired commitment.
So, if you are going to take advantage of these simple ideas, as I believe every single organisation of people should, then please make every effort to identify the very positive difference your organisation makes in the world today and what it could achieve if it really set its collective potential to work. Inspire your people – don’t bore them into mediocrity!
Some Things that Employees Might Consider Contribute Towards Greater Trust
- The leaders of the business live according to the identified values of the business
- The contribution made by employees is genuinely valued for the difference it makes to the goals of the business rather than being limited in recognition because of who or what that employee might be
- Our differences as individuals are celebrated for the additional perspective they offer rather than seen as a reason to treat people less favourably
- The opinions of all of us matter in relation to what we are doing and how we are doing it