Are you looking for a reliable way to create a workplace where collaboration, innovation, and motivation are consistently high?
Once you know how to build trust in a team, you have the answer.
The TRUST model is a simple approach to understanding the complex psychological drivers behind successful team-building. It enables leaders to create ideal conditions for each member of the group to contribute their best work, and utilize their unique talents.
So if you want your team to focus on creative solutions instead of stressful conflicts, this 5-point plan will set you on the right path.
But first, let’s talk a bit about trust and why it matters.
Why leaders need to build trust in the workplace
The ability to build trust is an essential quality for leadership.
Whether you’re running a business or heading up a team, learning trust-building skills will have a huge impact on performance.
Not only will you stop wasting time and resources, but you’ll increase the output of new ideas and potential breakthroughs.
The cost of conflict
Working in a team doesn’t always go as planned. You may mesh well with some of your team members, and butt heads with others.
This can lead to some major headaches, breakdowns in communication, and avoidable conflict.
Companies pay a hefty price for it too.
According to a CPP Inc report, employees are spending an average of 2.8 hours each week involved in conflict. That adds up to the equivalent of 385 million days — a full day of productivity per month — of arguing.
Companies spend around $359 billion in paid hours focusing on conflict instead of positive productivity. They are wasting time and money that would be better invested in fostering creative collaboration.
Distrust kills motivation
What happens when workers don’t trust their managers or coworkers? The research is clear: toxic work environments create chronic stress and job burnout.
When we feel excluded and ostracised, when our opinions are rejected, or when our work isn’t valued, trust is broken down. We feel unsafe.
Every negative interaction causes the amygdala, the most primitive part of our brains, to perceive a threat and flood the body with cortisol. Frequent negative interactions at work lead to chronically elevated stress hormones in the body.
When people are living in a state of “fight, flight, or freeze” they can become anxious, depressed, or detached. That makes it nearly impossible to find motivation or focus on meaningful work.
Trust fosters creativity and innovation
Diverse perspectives and strengths should add value to the team. But without building trust, people tend to hold back their best ideas. They either play it safe, or insist they already have all the answers, at the expense of exploring new options.
On the other hand, an environment of trust and safety creates ideal conditions for collaboration. When trust is present, it’s safe to share new ideas and take creative risks.
Tools like Conversational Intelligence® help leaders build trust, and transform the entire culture of their organization from status quo to leading edge.
Co-creating innovative solutions becomes possible when everyone knows their contributions will be valued, and their best ideas welcomed.
But it’s up to the leader to establish an environment of trust in the workplace. Read on to learn how.
What does trust mean?
I like to describe trust as “feeling safe when vulnerable.”
When applied to the workplace, trust creates a space for open communication and sharing of ideas among superiors and colleagues. Creativity can only flourish when people feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas.
Without trust, team members feel afraid to share their ideas honestly, fearing harsh rejection, competition, or embarrassment. Rather than turning to the team for inspiration or support, people look out for themselves and compete against each other.
When the default communication style in the group involves dismissing ideas, ridicule, and insisting on being right — it’s not healthy competition. Instead, these behaviors erode trust and create a hostile, survival of the fittest type of mentality.
The good news is that anyone currently leading or working with a team that lacks trust can take action to rebuild it.
Let’s take a look at a proven approach to encourage positive productivity and create an environment of trust in the workplace.
The TRUST Model: 5 essentials for a thriving workplace
Judith E. Glaser developed the TRUST Model, a tried and true method for how to build trust in a team.
The TRUST Model consists of the following five components:
T – Transparency
R – Respect
U – Understanding
S – Shared Success
T – Tell the Truth
Let’s take a closer look at each element and how they work to foster trust in the workplace.
Leaders should encourage a work environment of transparency, both in terms of policy but also on a personal level.
The Business Dictionary defines transparency as:
A lack of hidden agendas or conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making… essential condition for a free and open exchange whereby the rules and reasons behind regulatory measures are fair and clear to all participants.
In simple terms, transparency means everyone knows the rules of the game. For example, they understand the procedures, performance metrics, and potential outcomes. They trust supervisors to say what they mean, without hiding true intentions.
When there’s an appearance of secrecy, exclusion, or unpredictability, the fear response kicks in and we can’t function at our best. Transparency quiets hostility in the primitive brain, which reacts to threats of isolation and instability.
On a personal level, fostering a culture of openness enables people to share their doubts, fears, and struggles. It encourages connection, sending a message of trust that the brain understands as “I trust you will not harm me when I share what’s on my mind.”
The walls go down, and the ideas come out!
A respectful workplace creates the trust that enables people to speak up when there’s a problem, and share creative solutions. If you’ve embarrassed or dismissed a team member for speaking up, you have taught them not to trust you.
Respect in the workplace means that even though individuals may disagree, they still value the other person’s opinion.
Respectful exchanges involve shifting attention away from having power OVER others, and instead, refocusing on having power WITH others through connectivity.
By appreciating the strengths of each team member, greater trust, bonding, and empathy are part of the social fabric. Without these qualities, collaboration is difficult and you end up with a top-down leadership style.
I like to talk about understanding as standing under the umbrella of the other person to see their reality. Mutual understanding among teams increases empathy and reduces potential for conflict.
Encourage your team to step into another person’s shoes, understand their point of view, and discover how empathy creates the highest level of trust that we can experience together.
To honor each team-member’s personality and work well together, we need to first understand and communicate individual needs and emotions. Understanding includes encouraging self-awareness by helping team members recognize their own personality, strengths, and weaknesses.
Use personality tools like the DISC Profile assessment to help yourself and your team gain the understanding required to express their needs with clarity.
When people place their personal agenda above the team, it can breed hostility and unhealthy competition. Instead, leaders should encourage mutual success.
To create a plan for shared success, the collective has to become aware of the benefits from working together. Leaders need to get very clear about the team’s goals, and shape strategies that encourage working together towards those goals.
For example, instead of simply providing each individual with a sales target, a business owner can share their vision for company growth. They should make sure employees enjoy success as the business advances — whether that’s in career advancement, personal growth, or job satisfaction.
Essentially, your team should see that working together, rather than against each other, will benefit the group as a whole.
Tell the truth
Leaders should take an approach that involves working together to test perceptions and challenge assumptions.
Trust rests on honesty. Instead of assuming you know what people are thinking, take the time to find out. This helps to avoid fault-finding and instead, focus on finding solutions.
You can frame discussions that help team members share their thoughts and see the perspectives of others. Learning about other people and their way of thinking will help open everyone’s minds to new insights, bringing the team closer together.
Acknowledging your own behavior and biases is also a key component of trust — leaders need to take ownership of their mistakes, and examine their motives.
Now that you understand the essential ingredients, are you are ready for some practical ideas to bring them to your team?
Here are some ideas for trust-building activities to help your team start building stronger connections:
- Spark conversations among team members with one of the TRUST elements in mind.
- Develop quizzes and activities that build self-awareness and understanding of individual and team strengths.
- Organize an open session to discuss opinions on a recent idea or product.
- Ask your team to submit ideas anonymously, and read them aloud in a judgement-free brainstorming session.
Putting the TRUST Model into action
Remember: people are designed for connection. We yearn to feel close to people and to be understood — the workplace proves no exception.
This week, I encourage you to try and implement one of the five components you learned in this article. Try to put them all into one conversation or weave each one organically into your week’s activities.
Once you’ve established a trust-building habit, what’s next?
We have plenty of resources to help you supercharge your team’s performance. Start by downloading the free worksheet below!
All or parts of the content presented here are adapted from Conversational Intelligence®️ and the work of Judith E. Glaser.