Three steps for building trust in teams and organizations

I recently discussed how team leaders need to align incentives to achieve a high level of trust among teams which, in turn, supports better performance and results. A recent article by ASTD’s Ernie Kahane, Trust and Powerful Learning, proposes that organizational learning can be a powerful tool in building the kind of trust needed for effective teamwork.

This article makes me envision a three-step process for building trust through learning:

STEP 1: Conduct a Trust Audit

STEP 2: Build an Environment of Trust

STEP 3: Nurture Communities of Trust

Let’s examine each of these steps more closely.

Trust Audits

A trust audit is an assessment of the current organization to determine whether growth opportunity exist.

A trust audit gauges the current level of trust and identifies a plan of action for learning programs…

Activities can include organization-wide questionnaires, focus group discussions, or one-on-one interviews. There is a rich set of literature dedicated to developing good measurement tools for such an audit. Where trust is judged to be low, leaders will want to plan tactics for change.

Trust Environment

An environment of trust can only been built when leaders take the first steps to set the example. A leader who identifies that greater trust is needed, will begin by publicly acknowledging the need for change and making a commitment to learning.

Since trust is about perceived care, competence, and integrity, these values need to be demonstrated through interaction and design choice. By respecting participants and fostering an environment where people can feel safe acknowledging what they do not know, an organization can go a long way toward achieving long range objectives. Genuine participation, clear strategies, direct talk, fairness, and re-entry strategies can all create high-trust environments.

Trust Communities

Even when the environmental stage is set for learning, organizational culture is not going to change overnight. Some teams, or even small groups of team members, will adopt trusting behaviors more readily than others. Leaders will want to identify and nurture these change agents.

Learning professionals [and team leaders] should aim to build small communities of trust by demonstrating actions that promote trust and by addressing issues openly.

treepineconesFinally, a trust simile

Building trust within an organization or team is like planting a tree from seed. The leader plants the seed by modeling the behavior of trust. The leader cultivates the ground and waters the environment to ensure that the seedling will take root. As the tree begins to grow, the leader nurtures the strong trust communities (branches) and prunes away the sprouts and under-branches.

I am curious. How have you built trust in your teams? How has learning helped build and reinforce a culture of trust in your organization?

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10 Responses to Three steps for building trust in teams and organizations

  1. jim kellar says:

    I’m working with a non-profit group that includes a CEO, small executive team, 4 site managers, in the community, and 6-8 supervisors. Recently, the Director, ( second in command) made a concerted effort, behind the CEO’s back, to take over the organiz-ation. Drama ensued and several trusted subordinates, supervisors, etc. were recruited to help her…duped into saying the things necessary to help the Director. Fortunately, after a small group of board members and the Director had their day, the CEO prevailed. They can’t terminate everyone, and don’t want to let good people go, who were used poorly by their boss. But huge trust issues remain. Any ideas on how to work with this group will be appreciated.

  2. Haya says:

    i really agree that trust is an important facilitator in knowledge sharing

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