Building a Positive Team Culture Through Trust

Promoting Employee Growth Can Improve Employee Engagement and Retention

March 1, 2023

By Kelly Briggs
Trust is the foundation on which successful teams and positive team culture is  built. But recent world events like the pandemic has had a massive negative impact on trust in institutions around the world, according to global PR firm, Edelman, which conducts an annual “trust barometer” to monitor trust across four institutions — business, government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media.

There’s good news for businesses against this erosion in trust, though, Edelman suggests. “This year’s study shows that business is not only the most trusted institution among the four studied, but it is also the only trusted institution with a 61% trust level globally, and the only institution seen as both ethical and competent.” Further, “trust in my employer” has remained stable or is rising in 18 of the 27 countries analyzed for the report.

The U.S., unfortunately, is one of the countries that saw a decline — of 2% — in 2021. In addition, according to research from SHRM, while 61% of employees say that trust between them and their senior management is very important to job satisfaction, only 33% are “very satisfied” with the level of trust in their organizations. That suggests significant room for improvement.

There are big benefits to boosting trust amongst your workforce.

According to IBM research, 83% of employees experienced a more positive work environment when they felt they could trust their managers and the integrity of the organization. And 93% of workers surveyed by MetLife said that trustworthy leadership was the most critical factor in creating alignment with values — only 61%, though, said they felt that their companies were aligned with their values.

So, what should organizations be doing to build a positive team culture through trust?

Recognize the importance of a strong culture of trust

Trust is important to employees and research validates this importance. According to Speakap, employees said the most important attributes of a strong company culture are respect and fairness (39%), trust and integrity (23%), and teamwork (9%). Focusing on these critical elements to drive employee engagement, productivity, and longevity can help companies stand out as employers of choice, even within an environment marked by what is being called “the great resignation.”

Trust building is an organizational, not a managerial, effort

While building trust is an essential leadership skill, building a positive team culture through trust shouldn’t fall only on the shoulders of managers and supervisors. It’s a core responsibility of the entire organization, from the top — board and C-suite leaders — to the front lines.

Trust must be earned and supported in all directions. That’s how organizations foster psychological safety, open communication, and vulnerability to drive performance and engagement. When companies address their employees’ experience, from the front line to the corner office, they improve quality of life and build mutual trust and loyalty.

Excellence and innovation aren’t possible without trust

Without trust, organizational excellence and innovation will suffer. Consider this: employees are not likely to take a chance on suggesting an improvement or sharing a new idea, if they’re not certain that the response they get will be positive and supportive. Demonstrating that employee input is valued by being open to new ideas and positive, even when providing constructive feedback, boosts the odds that employees will feel free to share their ideas and seek innovation through their work.

Communication — two-way communication — matters

Communication is critical in establishing trust and it needs to be two-way. While senior leaders and managers will share information with employees, they must also seek and be open to feedback from employees. Keeping employees informed, sharing bad news as well as good, and establishing a culture of transparent communication will build trust.

Establishing that climate begins during the onboarding process, a critical time in the employee life cycle that lays the foundation for their relationship with the organization.

The role of rewards and recognition in building trust

Employees also need to be recognized for the contributions they make. Rewards and recognition can go a long way toward building trust by explicitly showing employees how their efforts are valued. It's really that simple.

Importantly, don’t overlook the importance of gig workers and contractors. They’re an important part of the organizational fabric as well and need to be included and recognized along with their full-time colleagues.

Setting the conditions and environment for trust to prosper

There are six quality of life dimensions that can affect trust and the employee experience:

  • Employee Recognition — All factors that contribute to an individual feeling truly valued.
  • Health and Well-being — Promoting a healthy lifestyle through a well-balanced diet and exercise.
  • Employee Personal Growth — Everything that allows an individual to learn and make progress.
  • Physical Environment — Factors that contribute to the comfort of individuals and make them feel safe.
  • Social Interaction — Factors that strengthen bonds among individuals and facilitate access to culture and entertainment.
  • Ease and Efficiency — Factors that impact an individual’s ability to carry out activities with ease, efficiency and minimal interruptions.

Insisting that all of these dimensions are focused on, from the top to the bottom of the organization, can create the environment and alignment that employees seek. It will keep them engaged and remind them they are valued. When they feel valued, they are open to trusting those around them — their managers, senior leaders, colleagues and coworkers, and others.

When organizations do this authentically, they not only boost the engagement, productivity and longevity of employees — they also position them as powerful brand ambassadors to support the organization and its efforts.

Take steps to leverage the trusted role that businesses hold around the globe. Make sure that your organization is gaining, rather than losing, ground when it comes to the trust that employees have for you and your organization.