5 Ways to Build Trust in the Workplace

Trust might be one of those touchy-feely emotions that takes a back seat in the headlines to things like risk-taking and creativity — and yet trust is what makes a well-run team work together so beautifully.

“Look around any organization, and you’ll see trust. There’s some division or department or work unit or team where people shine, ideas flourish and exceptional work is achieved. That’s where trust is,” writes Nan S. Russell, author of Trust Inc. in Psychology Today.

Trust nurtures everything from great ideas to standout performance because it’s a cyclical give-and-take between leader and employee.

Team members will follow a leader they trust, even if they don’t quite understand the direction they’re headed. And when leaders trust their teams, they’ll give them the authority to handle problems on their own, push creative boundaries and self-direct new solutions. Trust begets more trust, so teams with a foundation of trust tend to become stronger over time.

How can you inspire the same kind of trust in your team? Luckily, you don’t have to clear your schedule for a weekend retreat of trust falls and other team-building tricks. These tips will get you started — right here, right now.

1. Show them you care

Maybe you’re nervous about encouraging chit-chat in the office. Maybe you think you’ve just got too much on your plate to spare five minutes. But the truth is, leaders who demonstrate that they care about people instill trust in their teams.

When you ask an employee how her weekend was or follow up on how someone’s sick aunt is doing, you’re communicating that you see your team members as people who are capable of so much more than simply completing tasks.

Demonstrating that you care doesn’t have to mean a weekly office party — in fact, going overboard can be seen as phony or ostentatious. Instead, commit to chatting with one of your reports each day for just a couple of minutes. The payoff could be immense.

2. Don’t badmouth

“Employees aren’t stupid. Jill knows that if you’re badmouthing Joe behind Joe’s back, you’ll be badmouthing Jill as soon as she’s not around. How can you trust anybody who does that?” writes Geoffrey James in Inc. Magazine.

That doesn’t mean you have to falsely cheerlead everyone’s performance. But if you’re looking to vent about someone not pulling his or her weight, save it for outside the office. At work, keep it professional — not petty — and your team won’t have cause to doubt you’re trustworthy.

3. Be as transparent as possible

Sure, there are some things you won’t be able to divulge, but any questions you can answer should be answered as directly as possible. Too often at work, leaders retreat behind closed doors and emerge with one solution.

The more often you can fill your team in on the discussions and thought processes that went into deciding a course of action, the more they’ll trust that you’ve considered all possible paths, detours and pitfalls.

4. Share the credit

One of the quickest ways to burn trust is to take credit for a team effort. In contrast, if you go out of your way to applaud when your team goes above and beyond or to make sure that all of their names are on an initiative that takes off, you will build trust with them in spades.

When people recognize that you’re someone who gives credit where credit is due, they’ll also trust that when you do take credit for an idea, it’s truly your own.

5. Create common ground rules

Odds are, you have a specific set of criteria or metrics to help determine who should get a bonus this year. (And if you don’t, you probably should.) Rather than keep those ground rules to yourself, share them with your team.

According to Fast Company, a recent study found that employees who understood how their bonus was determined were more satisfied than those who received more money, but didn’t know how the bonus had been determined.

When employees have a sense that they understand the benchmarks they’re being judged against, they’re more likely to trust that the evaluations being made are fair.

This doesn’t just apply to performance benefits, either. Try to codify and make clear how you determine everything from what triggers an HR visit to what’s required for promotion.


This is an updated version of an earlier post, originally published Aug. 5, 2015. 


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