Building Trust at Workplace – An Arduous Journey?

Trust is fundamental to any strong relationship, be it personal or professional. Behavioral scientists and leadership gurus have all highlighted the importance of TRUST between leader and his / her employees for effective leadership.

How easy is it to build trusting relationships at workplace? Is it possible? My answer is a resounding YES. I have few managers, peers and subordinates with whom I share high level of trust. But the number is less than what I would like it to be.

I may not be the only one facing this challenge. Why is it difficult to build trust at workplace?  I realize that I have more questions than answers to this question.

  •  We all know that very few people would get the highest performance rating. Likewise, very few out of a group would get promoted. Is the cut-throat competition to stay ahead in the organization bell curve responsible for reducing the trust level? What impact does the competition to climb organization ladder have on trust?
  • Is it the influence of the environment? If I go back to my engineering college days, there was pressure – only one student from the class would come first. More importantly, only the top few would get best of the jobs. However, my best friends till date are my classmates from college. The trust and friendship survived despite the stiff competition.
  • Is it ‘lack of vulnerability’? Patrick Lencioni author of the book, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ considers ‘lack of vulnerability’ as one of the dysfunctions in a dysfunctional team. Vulnerability as per Lencioni is the ‘courage to accept  weakness’, ‘say sorry’, ‘call for help’. In essence it means exposing your weaker side to your colleagues. In my opinion, this plays a critical role in building trust. Are people able to demonstrate vulnerability at work place for larger benefit of the team and organization? A bigger question is, if someone demonstrates vulnerability because he wants to take the first step, what does the other person (be it a boss or peer) do?
  • Is it to do with individual personalities? With few of my managers, peers and subordinates, I have been able to build high trust. Of course, it did not happen overnight, it took time. But, if I reflect on these relationships, I see an alignment in values, beliefs and outlook. It’s not true for all, I have few trusting relationships where the other person is very different from me, but majority would have strong similarities.
  • Or is it a combination of all the above points?
  • Or are there more which I have not been able to articulate?

If these are some of the reasons that stop us from building trusting and meaningful relationships at work, what can we do about it? Is it possible to earn it by:

  • Walking the talk
  • Honoring all commitments
  • Being impartial as a leader
  • Considering employees as human beings and not just a pair of hands
  • Helping people grow as human beings

Is this enough? Or is there more to it? I believe in doing all of this, and have implemented. Still, the number is smaller than what I would like it to be. I have to accept that I failed miserably with few colleagues, specially one subordinate. I thought that I shared a strong relationship with him, I trusted him and I thought that he reciprocated. One year, he did not get highest possible performance rating (excellent). I had rated another person from the team as excellent. I provided all the logic to explain to him as to why he did not get excellent rating. I believe I was objective. But, he was upset and felt cheated. Our relationship broke just like that. Was it so weak that it broke in one instance? Or was the instance too big? Or was I under a wrong impression; there was never high level of trust between us. This happened almost 3 years back, I reflected a lot on where things went wrong, unfortunately I am yet to find an answer.

Coming back to the point of trust at workplace, what more can we do to build trust at workplace?  After all it is a place where we spend majority of our waking hours.

2 thoughts on “Building Trust at Workplace – An Arduous Journey?

  1. In the specific case of your team member who ‘broke’ the relationship, I wouldnt look at that as broken trust! Was it a relationship for gain? Was it a case of a young team member who merely wanted a promotion / bonus than be mentored better?
    Yes – I’m sure I disappointed some of my bosses, team members, and even customers and other colleagues at times! I made mistakes! Fortunately, I dont recall breaking trust!
    College relationships – those will last – forever! Unless ‘expectations’ enter the relationship!
    Overall, good writeup Padma! Keep writing….

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