A Recipe for Trust – 5 ways in which managers can build trust

Trust is important for a healthy organisation, all managers would agree. Yet while 48% CEOs want to focus on ‘building team agility’ and 36% on ‘fostering innovation’*, trust takes a back seat; even as it is the foundation for both innovation and agility.



Illustration : Three levels and five methods for building trust


Trust needs to be built at all levels – personal (individual), interpersonal (teams) and organisational (systemic); addressing trust at one level rarely leads to sustainable results. While an organisation can do a lot of things to build trust across the three levels, we provide here a 5-point method for managers who seek to build trust in their teams.


  1. Value differences:                      Something that all teams have but is rarely leveraged is the existing diversity within the team. A great way of building trust is to value what others bring to the table and how they differ with others. In the short-term, this seems to be problematic, there are conflicts and some chaos/heartburn. But, when settled, it creates enduring trust and deeper connection between members than otherwise possible.
  2. Communicate transparently: Fear and informational asymmetry is often accompanied with distrust. The best way to address that is to remove barriers to information. Sharing all information transparently brings people to parity, takes power out of the equation and shows others that there is intention to build trust. Further, it helps teams collaborate, align and perform at the most basic way – carrying out day to day tasks.
  3. Receive feedback:                      Feedback must be received before it is given as a part of a two-way exchange. It is difficult for employees to receive feedback unless their own feedback has been sought, respected and assimilated. Objective feedback on work and affective feedback on how one feels must be sought with vulnerability. Vulnerability is necessary not just for disarming others, but also for building a great feedback culture in teams.
  4. Exercise forgiveness:                 Forgiveness is a psychological reset button in relationships. For managers who are trying to build trust, blame games are a trap and analysis of who said what and who should bear the responsibility for eroded trust, can lead to nowhere. When trust is absent, it’s a cue for managers to regulate their own emotions and exercise forgiveness. Forgiveness evokes forgiveness in others and helps teams move on. Act of forgiveness tells people, that they can start again, with a clean slate and rebuild relationships because intentions are in place.
  5. Talk about Values:                      Often, lack of trust is a sign of misaligned values. While this is usually apparent to many, the approach used is less than effective. Managers who define values and communicate them to their teams for alignment, invite distrust because others may not identify with these values. Managers need to talk about values, discuss why they are needed as they see them, invite conversations around them and be prepared to challenge own perceptions should it be necessary. Talking about values where others cannot question or add to them is rarely successful.


A good way to work on the five-point method is to bring teams together to discuss differences, its values, surface different viewpoints and facilitate respectful sharing of feedback. Tools like the MBTI® and FIRO-B® instruments can be used to engage a group/team to facilitate such workshops. This helps teams become self-aware, see value in what they and others, uniquely bring to the table and understand why differences should not cause distrust or conflicts, but should be seen as an opportunity to create value. When trust builds, collaboration, innovation and performance follow in a more sustainable manner.


* Organisation Health Index, McKinsey, 2012


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