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workplace trust
7 Min Read

Why Building Trust Should Be Your Team’s Next Big Priority

Nicole Klemp

Phil Jackson once said, “Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the ‘me’ for the ‘we.’” No team can achieve at a higher level without trust in one another, no matter how many great individual contributors they may have. (Though having Michael Jordan on your team does help.) 

Today, with so many more people working on a hybrid or virtual team, a focus on building and maintaining trust is more important than ever. And fortunately, business leaders are taking note. According to a Deloitte poll, 61.3% of C-suite executives say their organization will work to improve trust levels with key stakeholders in the next year. 

Why is trust important in a team today?

In general, employees have different expectations for work than they did in the past. It used to be the norm for a person to spend all or most of their career with one company. They were largely motivated by good benefits and a steady paycheck. But while fair compensation is still important to younger generations, millennials and Gen Z employees tend to place a higher value on having a sense of purpose at work and belonging to a team on which they feel valued and respected. 

The workforce has figured out that we shouldn’t be miserable at work, and we can choose to be part of a supportive team that consists of people we can trust. 

Benefits of increased trust in the workplace

Trust isn’t just some nebulous or feel-good truism for HR leaders to put on the careers page of your website. A high level of trust on a team is a real sentiment that can be measured, and studies show that organizations that have it are more successful.  

According to a study by Paul Zak published in the Harvard Business Review, when compared with people at low-trust companies, employees at high-trust companies reported: 

  • 74% less stress
  • 106% more energy at work
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 13% fewer sick days
  • 76% higher engagement
  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives
  • 40% less burnout 

When people work with colleagues they trust, they’re also more collaborative and better at solving problems. They also feel more psychologically safe. In a study by Workforce Institute, 55% of employees said trust directly impacts their mental health. 

Oh, and that thing about young professionals wanting to find purpose at work? In his research, Zak also found that employees at high-trust organizations were 70% more aligned with their company’s purpose.

Types of team trust

Each type of relationship in an organization requires a different kind of trust. Employees need to trust their peers, managers, and leadership teams. Managers need to trust their direct reports. Teams need to collectively trust other teams they collaborate with. 

For this article, we will look specifically at the two types of trust that are most relevant at the individual team level: manager-employee trust and coworker/teammate trust. 

Manager-employee trust

Trust is a two-way street, especially when it comes to the relationship between an employee and their manager. Managers must trust their people to get work done and manage their own time (the antithesis of micromanagement), and employees need to trust that their manager has their back.

The employee-manager relationship is a major driver of employee engagement and a top reason people decide to leave or stay at a company. Unfortunately, according to a study by Crucial Learning, there is a lack of trust among many employees and managers. According to their research, nearly half of employees (47%) don’t feel safe sharing frustrations or confiding in their manager and aren’t confident their manager will advocate for them. 

Managers who trust their employees to make decisions, manage their own workloads, and explore new ideas and opportunities lead more creative and productive teams. And in turn, those employees have greater trust in their managers. 

Investing in manager training and coaching is a critical area many organizations need to focus on to get managers the skills they need to lead more effectively.

Coworker/teammate trust

As your pee-wee soccer coach taught you, there’s no I in team. Coworkers must trust each other to get things done and contribute. 

A strong sense of trust between coworkers is a critical component of high-performing teams. It fosters a sense of psychological safety, in which team members feel safe to share opinions, take risks, and ask for help without fear of negative repercussions. In his research, Zak found that employees at high-trust organizations felt 66% closer to their colleagues and had more empathy for one another.

People also need to feel they can rely on their teammates, not only from a work perspective but also personally. They need to feel that their peers will treat them with respect and that they can confide in them when needed. 

How to build trust in a team: 6 focus areas

Want to foster more trust on your team? Whether you’re a manager or an individual contributor, these six tips for building trust in the workplace can help you start the conversation and set an example.

  1. Communication. To build trust at work, do what you say and say what you mean. Whether you’re in a meeting, sending an email, or DMing a colleague, be clear and thorough in your communications. (Err on the side of over-communicating if necessary to make sure everyone is on the same page.) 
  2. Transparency. Being transparent as a manager or teammate is critical to trust building. Even if you have to tell people something they don’t want to hear—like a project will be delivered late or a customer was unhappy—it’s much better to own it and give your team full visibility so they know what to expect.
  3. Autonomy. While autonomy is essential for managers to provide for their employees, it’s also good for coworkers to remember. Show colleagues you trust them to get their job done; they’ll feel less pressure and take more accountability for team success.
  4. Personal relationships. How much do you really know about your team members? Do you spend one-on-one time with each of them? Take time to learn about the people on your team and how you can best support them as a colleague and friend. You don’t have to be besties, but you can build a trusting relationship.
  5. Appreciation. Whether in private or public, recognition is a positive way to acknowledge a team member for their hard work and can build trust on a team. Even small tokens of appreciation like shoutouts or High Fives can go a long way.  
  6. Fun! Doing team building activities unrelated to work are a great way to build trust and strengthen relationships on the team. (Just be careful when doing those trust falls!) 

Supercharge workplace trust with our latest guide

Trust is crucial to organizational success, and HR plays a vital role in cultivating and sustaining it. In our latest guide, The Trust Advantage: How Fostering Workplace Trust Can Supercharge Employee Performance, you’ll get the insights and practical strategies to foster trust within your organization. See the research behind the benefits of workplace trust, HR’s role in building it, and the potential obstacles to avoid.