How organisations can build higher levels of trust

25th January 2024

In this article, Richard Roberts shares his own trust building tips, with some extra ideas from those who attended his presentation ‘How to build a high trust culture’ in Bristol on 23rd January 2024.

Both employers and employees benefit when there is a feeling of trust at work. I think building trust is the most important aspect of a company culture as it brings engagement, productivity and wellbeing benefits. But it doesn’t happen without hard work – and it can quickly vanish if trust is breached.

As a culture and employee engagement specialist, I’ve helped organisations build passionate and engaged teams. Trust is what encourages people to go above and beyond, and it also helps to develop capabilities and levels of confidence that wouldn’t be there without it.

But it’s not all good news. Employee surveys regularly show that as much as 25% of the workforce don’t feel trusted by their employers. This means organisations risk missing out on the benefits that trust can bring. To address this, employers need to work on building higher levels of trust.

Why build trust?

Building trust creates the purpose and belonging that employees increasingly want. Higher levels of trust bring a number of benefits – more energy, more collaboration, more happiness and greater productivity as a result. What’s more, trust is at the core of an effective team – perfectly described in this quote.

“A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.” Simon Sinek.

There is plenty of evidence to support the value of trust. Research has found that trusting employees are 260% more motivated to work, have 41% lower rates of absenteeism, and are 50% less likely to look for another job. (Source: MITSloan, 2023).

Feeling trusted makes us proud of where we work, increases loyalty and reduces turnover. There are wellbeing benefits too. Stress levels are lower, as is the risk of anxiety and burnout.

So, building trust is well worth the effort – but how do you do it?

Tips to build a high trust culture

  • Share information and be open and honest. Asking for help involves others and shows that everyone can have a role to play.
  • As a line manager, view trust as part of the learning and development of your team. They won’t develop, or take the initiative, unless they feel the trust is there.
  • As part of this, you will also need to accept that failure is a part of learning. Keep trust levels by discussing this in the context of what happened, not who was involved.
  • Do what you can to reduce any fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. An environment of psychological safety is integral to a high trust culture. Fear stifles innovation and can lead to a toxic culture.
  • Recognise and acknowledge the contributors to success when it happens.
  • Give your people a voice. Encourage them to share their views, and equally, listen and act on what you hear, involving them in any change.
  • Leaders will build trust when they show they place it in others. This needs to go both ways. It’s not easy being a leader, especially in challenging times. Giving them a little trust in return will energise them too.

Thoughts from the room

In addition, we received some very constructive comments in the session. Here are some of the highlights that I believe could be of help in other organisations:

  • Dial back on the micro management. Trust your people that it will get done and it will. Autonomy and self-direction are far more motivating.
  • Stop looking for perfection. Recognise that your people can’t all be good at everything.
  • Organisations need to follow-through on what they promise. Saying what you’ll do and doing what you say need to match to build trust. This also applies to good team leadership.
  • If you ask your people for questions, don’t edit out the negative ones. It’s how you answer all questions with respect that’s most important and builds trust.
  • Line managers that regularly check in with team members, especially on a Friday, need to see it from their team’s perspective. Are they really checking in – or checking up?
  • If you want to see more of your people back in your building don’t mandate it – create reasons why they’d want to go in.

How to measure your levels of trust

One way to do this is through a culture audit. It becomes very clear when trust exists and when it does not.  I ask people what happens when things don’t go according to plan, or a mistake is made.  Is it considered to be a learning experience or an opportunity to get out the disciplinary process? It’s often the language people use that is key.

If you’d like to know more about how a culture audit works and what you are likely to learn, please get in touch.

Do you need some help?

Please contact me if you want to chat through a scenario or need my help in auditing your levels of trust with recommendations for actions you can take.

Rich Roberts

[email protected]


About Bristol Creative Industries

Bristol Creative Industries is the membership network that supports the region's creative sector to learn, grow and connect, driven by the common belief that we can achieve more collectively than alone. 

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