Does Trust In The Workplace Matter?

More than ever, collaboration powered by technology does amazing things. It can put your graphics team in Madrid together with your business development group in Manchester and allow your vice president in Manhattan to track their progress. But even the best technology only gets you so far. To really make collaboration work, you need that other T-word: Trust.

Workplace trust can be defined in a number of ways but I like the definition used by the Human Capital Institute (HCI): “the willingness to put oneself at risk based on another individual’s actions.”

So let’s start with two big reasons why trust matters.

1) Productivity

Teams that trust each other outperform teams that don’t. That’s the conclusion of HCI’s study, Building Trust 2013: Workforce Trends Defining High Performance, which was based on a survey of business professionals. And leadership is key, according to the report: “Employees at strong-performing organizations see their leaders as consistently walking the talk by modeling and reflecting the organization’s values.”

2) Engagement

Productivity is also highly linked to employee engagement, according to the HCI study. This echoes earlier research by Gallup, that found that not only were highly engaged employees more productive, but that employee disengagement costs the U.S. between $450 and $550 billion per year. So what drives engagement? Stephen M.R. Covey (son of the more famous Stephen Covey) makes the argument in his book The Speed of Trust that employees will stay at an organization longer and be more engaged when there is a high degree of trust. These high trust organizations earn loyalty from all stakeholders including employees, customers, suppliers, distributors, and investors.

Building trust: The core principles

When I think about building trust, I think about both my own behavior and how I’m treating those around me. Am I being honest and authentic? Am I paying attention so that I can understand my team’s individual motivations? And am I helping them achieve and celebrate their full potential?

These are similar to what Psychology Today highlights as three trust basics: give trust first, communicate effectively, and be genuine.

  • Giving trust first means practicing reciprocity. Everyone should begin with trusting the organization and then, as relationships are created, extend trust to individuals with the expectation of receiving that same trust.
  • Communicating effectively refers to being transparent and ensuring that communication strategies meet the context – interact with mutual respect and keep positive communication at the forefront of every interaction.
  • Being genuine is just that – everyone should be empowered and comfortable enough to be authentic. When you’re genuine, there’s no need to self-monitor, save face, or rely on a corporate façade – all things that can erode trust.

Build trust into your foundational values and you’ll build a team where members feel appreciated, responsible, and accountable. Having a positive relationship with employees will build one-to-one trust, allowing leaders to be perceived as fair and credible.

Trust 2.0: Working with remote teams

Building trust in the workplace is challenging enough when you’re face to face. But when it comes to virtual teams, youneed to work all the harder. Almost half of virtual employees never meet their virtual team colleagues, according to a report by cultural training service RW3, and 94 percent found reading nonverbal cues challenging.

That’s where both training and technology can come in helpful. Are your leaders as adept in leading virtual teams as they are in ones where the whole team regularly can go out for coffee? Have you invested in technology that lets teams go out for virtual coffee?

If you have, you’re ahead of the game. More than half those surveyed for the Institute for Corporate Productivity’s 2013 Global Leadership Development Survey said fluency in virtual technology, while critical, was not part of their leadership development programs. And nearly as many said they were lacking training in social networking – another critical area, particularly when it comes to virtual teams.

Trust, then verify

Like everything else you want to manage, trust must be measured. Here at SAP, every manager is rated once a year on a “Leadership Trust Score” as part of our annual employee survey. This allows us both to track progress over time as well as to see how we rate against company and industry averages. Other companies take different approaches, but the key thing is decide what works best for your company – and then actually do it.

Above all, remember that trust must be earned and maintained. Trust is all about mutual respect – you’ve got to give to get.

 This story originally appeared in SAP Business Trends.