⚠️ Unsupported Browser

Your browser is not supported.

The latest version of Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge is required to use this website.

Click the button below to update and we look forward to seeing you soon.

Update now

Cultivating trust to get the most from individuals and teams

Culture & mindset development 26th September 2023

When it comes to leadership, formal structures and hierarchies will only take you part of the way to inspiring, influencing, gaining commitment or even moving people to action.

To paint the full picture, we all know that strong relationships and fostering a positive reputation are  just as important, and at the heart of those is trust.

Whilst no one sets out to be untrustworthy or undermine trust levels, it is possible to overlook or unconsciously chip away at trust with individuals and teams. This in turn has a detrimental effect on our ability to bring people together; positively influence; instigate change and foster adoption.

But how can you enhance and safeguard levels of trust? Drawing inspiration from thought leaders such as Julian Stodd, Liz Fossilien, and Amy Edmonson, here are some ideas that explore the different facets of trust and ways to strengthen them with individuals and teams…

Idea 1: Vulnerability-based trust

The power of a person in authority asking for help, is often referred to as “vulnerability-based trust”. Research and anecdotal evidence demonstrates this behaviour has a positive impact on various aspects of teamwork, organisational culture, and employee engagement.

To practice vulnerability-based trust, getting comfortable with expressing your thoughts, feelings and concerns is crucial.  Two things to try out:

  • Think about what you/your team are accountable for delivering and ask yourself ‘What is keeping me up at night?’.  In your next team meeting, share this concern along with a hope and a fear associated to it, whilst inviting them to do the same.
  • Then, ask the team for ideas on how you could tackle your concerns and agree a way forward together. This process confronts and deals with difficult facts (demonstrating your vulnerability) while showing confidence and faith in your team’s ability and empowering them to be part of the solution with you.

Worthwhile watch: If you want to learn more about practicing (selective) vulnerability watch this short Ted Talk by Liz Fosslien: How to embrace emotions at work

Idea 2: Psychological safety

Amy Edmondson’s well known work on psychological safety shows leaders who set an example by demonstrating vulnerability, actively seeking input from team members, and providing constructive feedback, help nurture a safe and open environment (crucial for building trust).

To practice this, focus on seeking advice instead of feedback. Here’s how:

  • Even though giving constructive feedback is a way to show we care about a colleague, being asked for it can feel uncomfortable. So this week, if you’re looking for feedback, try swapping that word for ‘advice’.
  • How? You could say to a colleague ‘If you were going to give me one piece of advice about X, what would it be?’
  • By doing this you send a clear signal that you want to hear and act on what they say so you’re much more likely to get a constructive, useful response, with no hard feelings.

Relevant read: If you are interested in understanding more about the science of asking for advice vs feedback read this HBR article: Why asking for help is more effective than asking for feedback

Idea 3: Oxytocin

Oxytocin is often referred to as the “trust hormone” because it plays a role in building and maintaining social bonds and trust. It is released during positive social interactions. To create such interactions, this week:

  • Instead of asking ‘How are you?’ which is likely to result in an automatic ‘Fine thank you’, try asking ‘What are you excited about this week?’ Or ‘What has been a highlight for you this week?’ or ‘What are you least excited about?’
  • Put a reminder in your diary for a weeks’ time to check back in: Ask: ‘What did you think would happen? What happened and what will you try and do differently as a result?’
  • This approach will create a real sense of being heard, cared for and remembered by the person you ask.


Related articles

Learn more about our work in improving team performance