The other day I was talking to somebody about trust in the workplace. He asked me, "Give me a recipe for how you would build trust in a team." I said, "There is no such recipe as it depends on the individuals on that team". He insisted, so we went back and forth. While we discussed the matter, two things were going through my mind; 1. This is the problem in organisations; we want a framework, a 5-step model, or a recipe to solve complex human behaviours. 2. What a simplistic way of looking at such a complex issue and complex human beings. It is a straightforward insult when companies put a number to one's performance, experience, or trust (good old trust index). Another insult to injury is administering a ready-made, off-the-shelf solution to an issue that only the individual can understand and has the answer to the problem.
The way trust is approached in organisations is crucial to solving it. First of all, it needs specifying. What do we want employees to trust us in, with, for, as, or by? Organisational leaders easily throw the phrase "We need to build trust" or "There is no trust". But when questions for more details are asked, there is no answer other than, "Oh, you know I want a more cohesive team with fun". These are the sentences that make me lose all hope.
Parameters around trust are crucial so we can ask individuals specific questions to understand their level of trust. For example, do we want them to trust each other to get the job done? Not to throw each other under the bus for a promotion or just for a tap on the shoulder from the manager? Do we want them to trust us when they have a work-related problem they can tell us, and we can fix it? Or maybe to trust the organisation to tell them the truth and on time when layoffs are risking their livelihood? Do we want them to trust that we will objectively evaluate their performance and reward them accordingly? Do we want them to trust us in telling us when they are thinking of moving on and starting to look for a job?
Should we also include personal issues in the trust game, like; trust me with sharing your personal problem?
WHAT DO WE WANT EMPLOYEES TO TRUST US & EACH OTHER WITH?
Here is the funny thing, if you look around at any organisation and observe yourself, you will find that all those trusts exist. But they don't exist with everyone. Most of us have people at work, friends, and our families that we trust with some things and don't with others. We all have coworkers with whom we share personal stuff, and with others, we share work-related issues.
WE TEND TO TRUST EVERYONE BUT WITH DIFFERENT THINGS, AND THAT'S OK!
I have colleagues I wouldn't trust with my Saturday morning grocery shopping, but I would be very happy to talk about personal issues they can relate to. There is no recipe for trust! After ten years, I don't trust my partner to buy me the correct shampoo (he brings it from London twice a year, and each time he must send me a picture of the bottle before paying for it).
Secondly, when do we step in? As long as the team is functional and has no trust issues related to work that would impact productivity, there is no reason to go down the rabbit hole of a trust game. You also want to ensure that the atmosphere is pleasant, but it has nothing to do with trust. People at work are required to maintain functioning work relationships. What does it mean?
If I need something from you related to work, I can walk up to the person with no issues and communicate that. It means that we don't undermine each other during the next meeting and can gracefully play with competing ideas without agreeing on anything while aiming for a solution.
Lastly, we must understand why trust is broken to be able to fix it, and the answer is with the individual who is not trusting. Every trust issue comes from a previous experience, whether it happened during the current employment or the previous one(s). We all carry that baggage that is full of memories of us being done wrong or let down (from our perspective).
What do those experiences look like at work? Like this: When we promised something to somebody but never delivered it. When we preach about a certain behaviour or rule, we are the first to break it. When we compromise our integrity for our benefit. When we lie and make stories up to fit in (lack of authenticity). When we reject responsibility and blame others for poor outcomes. When we throw others under the bus and wash our hands. When we spoke up, nobody listened, or we got ridiculed and talked about. When we gossip about other people. And finally, when we are incompetent in our role the greatest reason for trust issues at work.
When you look at those examples, you notice that trust is not difficult to build, and it is even less difficult to ruin. Do the above examples a few times, and you will be right there.