The Foundation of Trust

Building trust is key to successful teamwork in the workplace and in the community.

by Jennifer Zammuto, Heart of Illinois United Way

The building blocks of successful teams start with a strong foundation of trust. From CEOs to coaches, from business leaders to teachers, we have all worked on teams that are not as cohesive or successful as we knew they could be. And, if you are lucky enough to have been part of a team that is highly successful, what was the difference? Trust. 

Trust Involves Letting Go
Any great coach will tell you that trust is not a one-way street. Not only do the players need to trust the coach, but the coach must trust the players—and the players must trust each other—in order for the team to win. 

It is easy to talk about but much more difficult to do, especially if you have been burned before. Trust involves letting go of control a little, and it requires leaders to have the courage to address challenges as they happen. This is not something that can happen overnight, but it can happen immediately in small ways. Trust is earned when actions match words.

The same dynamic takes place within our workplaces. Good leaders do not micro-manage—they trust their people to do their work; they share information and are not afraid to admit when something is not working. Over the past year, our trust in one another has been put to the test in schools and workplaces. Improving trust starts with communicating and understanding your team, where they are coming from, and who they are. 

Building and Maintaining Trust
Not all people build trust the same way. “Automatic trusters” will start every relationship at a certain level of trust based on data and perceptions. Once you break their trust, however, it is harder to repair the relationship. “Evidence-based trusters” either don’t trust you to begin with or may be a little neutral to the situation. Once they can gather enough evidence that you or your organization are trustworthy, it is easier to maintain their trust through changing conditions. 

Consistency and predictability are also key to how we trust. With this last year so full of change, it has given all of us the opportunity to reflect and share what has remained the same. This is a way to reduce uncertainty and build trust across organizations. 

For leaders, encouraging trust starts with having the right person in the right job, addressing challenges as they happen, and helping employees before they are struggling and throughout the process. At the Heart of Illinois United Way, we ask people to “follow your heart,” “trust the data” and “invest in your community.” These three steps are also the key to successful teams. 

As leaders, we need to follow our hearts and care about our employees and the people we serve. As employees and community members, we need to trust the data, processes and systems that are in place and regularly work to make them better. And as a community, we must continually work together to invest in our people, addressing root causes in order to create lasting and sustainable impact. And the way to start all of this begins with trust. PM