Trust: Build it, keep it, and succeed

Trust. What does it mean to you? As a concept for people who are responsible for others in an organization, I believe trust gets overlooked and dismissed too soon by too many.  The result is that there isn’t a focus on building trust and it isn’t seen as important as maybe it should be.  It certainly can be something we don’t consciously work on, which is funny because we spend money on outdoor courses aimed at building trust.  That trust, where dangers are imminent, and trust is obvious, doesn’t appear to directly translate back to the office!  

I see trust in a number of layers, almost like a hierarchy of trust. And this hierarchy means that you have to build trust - we’ve all heard that from time-to-time. For managers and leaders of organizations building trust is key to being able to lead (remember the role of “leader”).  Building trust means moving through the hierarchy and establishing trust at each layer.

Figure 1: The Trust Hierarchy

Building trust does a number of things for you as someone responsible for people in an organization, whether you are managing, leading or coaching.  Key to this is that building trust to the highest level allows your people to remain open to you. Building trust in the team means that each team member remains open to each other.  Remaining open to people allows the strongest connection and the most powerful combination of ability  and each other’s strengths.  Imagine that you behaved in such a was as to create the highest level of trust in your team. It has the ability to generate a level of commitment so strong that each person holds the team’s goals higher than their own! Imagine that!

I know that in one of my largest and toughest roles, I took over a team near the end of a new system implementation.  The project was about the system and not the business process or the people. So, things weren’t going so well. I was in an overwhelm state that was approaching being unrecoverable.  What I did, I can now describe as moving through the trust hierarchy from level 2 to level 5 with my team.  Even though things were difficult I made sure not to throw anyone under the bus. We worked the problem.  I told the team what I thought and what I would do and then I did it - they didn’t agree totally.  I asked for input, individually and openly with my Managers. Some inputs I used and others I didn’t. I made sure to share my thinking with them before I made a public decision.  The sales team wasn’t happy with my team and I stood by them every step of the way. I made sure to have their backs.  It wasn’t perfect by any means. However, the team pulled together and I felt I had their trust and I believe they felt they had mine.

Trust is fragile and you have to know that upfront.  Given that there are five levels of trust and the top level is where you want to get to, you have to build up to it and that takes time. Any number of factors can affect your efforts to build trust.  The largest factor being change.  When change is on the horizon or being managed and implemented, trust can get strained. When change isn’t managed openly, you can drop right back down to level 1 as people fear for their jobs and livelihood.  If some fears come to pass it’s possible to drop further into the “no-trust” zone and that just makes things more difficult, all around.

So keep the Trust Hierarchy in mind with all your relationships.  Work to keep and grow the trust you’ve earned. If you mess up, explain your actions openly with that person and without holding back. If you’re not “in trust” with someone, re-frame what you’ve seen and be curious about their actions.  Getting back into trust with someone is as important as being trusted by others!  Trust is real and foundational.  Build it.  Keep it. And succeed!