Vishwanath Joshi

The quality of relationships at the workplace is the bedrock on which employee, customer, and supplier experiences of an organization are based. These relationships determine not only the quality of communication that takes place among the stakeholders but also the business outcomes of these interactions. And trust is the life blood of these relationships. Trust can transform mediocre, transactional workplaces into great, thriving, and performing organizations.

In numerous workshops with medium to large organizations, we have asked participants the defintion of trust. Answers range from 'trust equals belief' to 'trust as a confidence in the intentions of the other person.’ Finally, we have settled with a simple, easily understandable definition of 'trust as a feeling you experience based on how the other person behaves with you in day-to-day interactions.’

A manager who takes a floor walk every morning and connects with people beyond work – chatting about last evening’s soccer match or a new movie release – is more likely to earn trust than a manager who does so occasionally or when he/she walks across to your desk only when it is about a report or missed deliverable.

A manager from a pharmaceutical company took some ideas from a workshop and implemented a few simple, yet powerful initiatives. One was 'Listening Diary'- a dedicated time slot, twice a week, on the floor, just to listen and note down in his 'Listening Diary’ what his workers and supervisors shared with him. He supported his 'Listening Diary' with a 'Listening Board' on the floor where he put up the status of the actions he took to resolve any issues that were discussed with him by his floor team. In over a period of 2-3 weeks, the traffic around his desk went up as his teammates believed he was a doer who took ownership of what happened on the floor.

His other initiative was 'Thoko Tali,' an instant recognition program on the floor. Even the smallest of contributions received recognition, whether it was a good idea to solve a problem or an initiative to improve certain parameters on the floor.

What did all these result in? Greater volunteerism, ownership, better compliance standards at the plant, collaboration, and ultimately achieving and exceeding production targets. The trust that this manager had built had paid off.

We asked thousands of managers in these workshops about their experiences with the 'test reservoir'- building or depleting the balance. Many believed that intentions built trust, while a minority were of the opinion that behaviors mattered more than intentions.

Below are the top five behaviors that are perceived to build trust in a team:

1. Keeping the team informed
There is no such thing as 'over communication.’ Ensuring that team members are informed of all that affects them on a day-to-day basis is a mandatory item on the list of trust-building behaviors. Informal, frequent, and comprehensive communication makes information-sharing effective. We have seen managers launch initiatives like 'Sounding Board,' 'Coffee Chats,' or 'Dil ki Baat’ to keep the team informed, and thus engaged.

2. Giving them a voice
Listening to the concerns, ideas, and perspectives of team members goes a long way in building trust and engagement in the team. Having productive team meetings where everyone’s voice is heard and respected, anonymous feedback sessions ('Sab ki aawaaz' as branded by one of the managers), or creating 'Eureka forums' to collect ideas from team members are initiatives managers have launched to give people a voice.

3. Keeping promises
Factors that deter trust building are miscommunication, focus on short-term goals, and politics. A manager once recounted an experience involving her team member who was expecting a promotion. When the team member had enquired about the promotion, the manager had in a colloquial way, said, 'I will look at it; let me see what I can do.' And that was perceived as a promise. In less than three months, the team member quit, citing 'not keeping promises' as a major reason for his resignation. Google has an operational norm: 'Say Yes or No.' With a yes-no response, there is no scope for miscommunication or ambiguity. This helps in preventing relationship debacles and maintaining transparent communication.

4. Appreciation and recognition
Acknowledging and recognizing the efforts of team members and their outcomes is a big step towards building a trust reservoir. The branch manager of a bank realized the power of recognition after he launched an initiative called 'Ghantaa Naad' (ring the bell). Someone from the team would ring a bell to recognize even the smallest contribution. This practice encouraged people to find opportunitiesto recognize their peers and thus build a high level of trust and collaboration among team members.

5. Involvement and sharing responsibilities
Building trust involves sharing. Holding power or responsibilities depletes the trust balance in the reservoir. Managers who build high levels of trust engage in constant sharing of responsibilities. They create deliberate opportunities, like 'Ek Din Ka Nayak' (King for the day) initiatives where one team member every month takes over as manager of the team. The day ends with a coaching conversation between this team member and the manager, followed by an experiencesharing session with the entire team the next day.

Now let's look at the top five behaviors that result in trust depletion.
1. Blame game, including not accepting accountability when things go wrong: When the team feels exposed or not shielded by the manager from the wrath of the top management or customer, trust levels drop. The sense of helplessness and the fear of facing consequences without support not only strains the relationship with the manager but also makes the team overcautious and risk averse in the future.

2. Neglecting or not paying enough attention to professional development: This often happens when the focus of the manager is only on tasks and project milestones, perhaps at the cost of the team’s learning and development. In certain sectors, this also results in a fear of getting outdated and de-growth, thereby impacting trust in the manager.

3. Selective sharing of information by the manager, thus creating a perception of bias and unfairness. This is a sure shot way of depleting interpersonal comfort levels and hence, trust between the manager and the team.

4. Insensitivity to personal needs like time off, flexibilty, family commitments, health, and stress at work makes the manager appear uncaring, and one who no one wants to work with.

5. Inattention to 'going above and beyond' efforts of team members, including not giving credit where it is due. Great workplaces and great managers have realized that building trust and continuing to invest in building and sustaining positive relationships at work are the best investments that they can make. But this does not come easy; it needs hard work, commitment, and deliberate actions to keep trust levels high.

(Dr.Vishwanath Joshi leads the practice of journey leadership development programs at Great Place to Work® India. He is involved in designing and delivering organizational culture building and employee engagement interventions for medium to large organizations across different sectors).