Trust is the Key to High Performing Organizational Cultures
Updated: Oct 12
High performing teams and organizations cannot exist without an overarching drive towards a high performing culture that values trust and transparency. It is imperative for companies to provide a space that allows people to be vulnerable, to feel safe and above all to feel that they can trust the people they work with and for. According to the motivational speaker Simon Sinek, what distinguishes successful organizations which thrive during bad economic times is that the people who work there feel safe. They believe that their leaders would protect them if something happened. When employees feel safe, they can operate from a place of security rather than fear, thereby enabling remarkable things to happen for themselves, for their organizations, and for their communities at large.
“Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.” - Warren Bennis, American Scholar and Leadership Guru
Without trust there is less innovation, collaboration, creative thinking, and productivity. People spend their time protecting themselves and their own self-interests, instead of using that time to help their team and organization attain its goals. If trust is not present, employees feel forced to expend their time and energy protecting themselves from one another, which inherently weakens the organization. Simon Sinek, in his book Leaders Eat Last, introduces the concept of Circle of Safety. Rooted in the Circle of Safety are trust and cooperation. When employees feel that they are in a circle of safety, they are able to pull together as a unified team, and combine their talents and strengths to face the external threats and seize the opportunities. Teams rooted in trust are motivated to act in the best interest of the “We”.
Trust is also essential for knowledge sharing. A study published in the "Journal of Knowledge Management" found that trust is a key element to a team's knowledge acquisition and successful utilization. Put simply, if your team members trust one another, they are far more likely to share knowledge, and communicate openly. Trust needs to exist across all levels of the organization, as well as with external partners and stakeholders, for the organization to work effectively and thrive.
So what does it take to create Trust?
According to management expert Patrick Lencioni, vulnerability is a key part to building trust. Another way to understand what trust is made up of is to look at a model from David Maister, from his book The Trusted Advisor, where he provides a simple way of breaking down components of trust so that you can isolate where you might have strengths and weaknesses, and fix those weak areas. He provides a trust equation consisting of four parts:
Credibility: demonstrated through words and expertise
Reliability: shown through actions, consistency, and dependability
Intimacy: realm of emotions; shown through transparency and honesty
Self-orientation/interest: deals with inner motives; preoccupation with one’s own agenda
To increase trustworthiness, leaders need to increase Credibility, Reliability and Intimacy and decrease Self-Orientation. Following are some suggestions that leaders can follow to raise their own "Trust Quotient", thereby inspiring a culture of trust within the teams and organizations that they lead.
Set clear expectations and provide ongoing feedback
Be consistent and communicate openly
Share the big picture; provide the “why” for the “what” of work
Make realistic commitments and follow-through on those
Don’t exaggerate, lie, or skirt issues
When you don’t know, say so; practice vulnerability
Act empathetically; show support and avoid blame
Invest in your own and your employees’ health, development & productivity
Provide employees opportunities to utilize all their talents
Lead bravely and authentically!
When there is trust, no challenge or adversity will be too difficult to overcome. Therefore in these challenging times, it is imperative that when developing leaders, trust must be the core principle and expectation.