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Hybrid working: skills for leadership
Hybrid working: skills for leadership

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3.6 Building trust

If you don’t trust your employees or your team – if you find you are asking yourself ‘how do I know whether they are working?’ – then this suggests that you are not in the right frame of mind to succeed with hybrid working in your organisation. As we’ve already mentioned, new ways of working require new ways of leading. Arguably the most important step in this is to build trust.

Two parts of the concept of trust have been identified:

  • Cognitive trust: This is how confident someone feels about another person’s ability or reliability, often using relatively objective criteria to judge their ability, such as performance measures, awards or qualifications. This has been described as a ‘dispassionate type of trust’.
  • Affective trust: This is how secure someone feels about their relationship with another person, and their feelings about whether the other person seems ethical, trustworthy and has integrity. This is trust driven by emotional and relational factors.
(Investors in People, no date)

Earning trust from your team

To earn trust, money and power aren’t enough; you have to show some concern for others. You can’t buy trust in the supermarket.

But ‘employees need to earn my trust’ – right? Wrong – this is a really old-fashioned attitude, and actually quite a lot of the time we give trust to people who have not earned it. According to Armstrong (2019): ‘When we believe that people must earn our trust, we begin putting in padlocks that only we have the keys to, all the while hoping that others will open their doors to us’.

Jurgen Appelo (2011) points out that trust operates in two directions. You can choose to trust someone, and they can choose to trust you – but this might not happen at the same time.

There may be times that you trust your team, but they may not have trust in you as a leader. You cannot assume the team will trust you – trust has to be earned as a leader. When this is lacking, this can cause issues for the team.

Appelo (2011) argues that as a leader, you need to be consistent in your behaviour to build trust. Be ‘predictably pleasant’ to team members to help establish affective trust. Similarly, you can ‘build trust simply by doing what you have committed to do’. The main habit you need to develop as a leader is keeping your commitments. So, if you have promised to give responsibilities to other team members, do not interfere or start micromanaging. If you promise to help a colleague or send them some information, remember to do this.

Keeping your commitments can help you earn trust, but remember also that trust is easily destroyed if you do not do what you say you will do.

Building blocks of trust

Jaffe (2018) outlines some of the ways to build trust:

  1. Reliability and dependability
  2. Transparency
  3. Competency
  4. Sincerity, authenticity and congruency
  5. Fairness
  6. Openness and vulnerability

Trust is a natural response to certain qualities in a person and if those are absent then trust can disappear.

Achieving a culture of trust

To build a culture of trust in a workplace where fear is widespread is difficult. Even suggesting change may lead to defensiveness. As a leader, however, you may have to step out of your comfort zone to build trust in the team. Ryan (2018) offers some suggestions on how to do this:

  • Talk with your team about the culture of the organisation. Discuss where there is fear and where there is trust, and how to improve things. If there is fear and a lack of trust in the culture, it may take time for team members to feel safe expressing their views. You need to support that safety.
  • Avoid a blame culture – as you have seen many times, psychological safety and a willingness to admit mistakes are crucial for successful agile teams. As part of this, admit both your own mistakes and mistakes made in other parts of the organisation that are relevant to your team.
  • Review employee handbooks and policies – are these rules that shape the culture likely to instil fear or trust? Think about what you can do to change this.
  • Try to create opportunities for meetings between senior leadership and those working on the front line. Trust will be improved if those at all levels get to know each other better as people.
  • Show that you value your team members as people in your interactions with them.
  • Check in with team members regularly and respond to their feedback.
  • Avoid jargon when communicating with your team – communicate with them straightforwardly.
  • Be honest with your team in communicating what is going on in the wider organisation, in terms of plans, priorities and challenges.

In the next video, contributors talk about the importance of building trust, and approaches that can be taken to achieve it.

Download this video clip.Video player: hyb_2_2022_sept108_building_trust_compressed.mp4
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