ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

August 1998 / Special Feature : An Issue Of Trust

An Issue Of Trust

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash

All You Ever Really Need To Know About Trust You Learned In Kindergarten

Furnishing Trust And Empowerment

Eight Organizational Strategies That Build Trust

Trust In Whom

by Peter Block
Trust Columns
John Schuster

Cliff Bolster
Joel Henning
Dan Oestreich
Felicia Seaton-Williams
Trust Interviews
Trapeze Artist
Emergency Room Physician

Air Traffic Controller
Police Officer
Park Ranger


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Book Review


Eight Organizational Strategies That Build Trust

If organizational leaders want people throughout the organization to work effectively in teams, take risks, speak up, be open to new ideas, support change efforts, share information, focus on quality and customer service—and follow through on commitments, they must attend to the infrastructure which shapes the work culture. People will behave in these ways only if they choose to do so—not because they are forced. Such intrinsic motivation comes only when people feel trusted and when they trust the organization. Here are eight powerful ways leaders can build trust throughout the organization.

1. Define the organization’s values behaviorally—so that people share a common understanding of what concepts like quality, trust, innovation and teamwork mean.

For example, one organization defines trust as, “We will tell the truth.” Use these definitions to guide decision making throughout the organization—especially at senior levels.

2. Align policies, practices, systems and structures with the positive intent of the vision, mission and values of the organization.
Many routine work procedures or policies reinforce bureaucracy and send messages that people are not to be trusted, customers don’t really count or quality is not a high priority. A classic example is a performance appraisal system that only focuses on individual effort in an environment where teamwork is emphasized. Such obvious incongruities cause people to discount or become cynical about documents that in trust-based organizations can provide much inspiration and guidance.

3. Consider deleting or changing any policy, practice, system or structure that makes negative assumptions about the intentions of people.

When problems develop, and there is evidence that negative intentions are present, deal with those circumstances on a case-by-case basis—not as a systemic pattern.

4. Build, support and encourage both technical and human relations competence throughout the organization.

Such efforts tell employees they are valued and valuable. With greater skills come increased personal confidence and a more positive attitude toward changes that might affect one’s role, responsibilities or employment. In trust-based workplaces, interpersonal skills are as equally important as technical skills—especially among those in leadership positions. The most useful are listening, giving and receiving performance feedback, talking about tough issues, handling conflict and disagreement, consensus based decision making and effective participation in meetings.

5. Expect and require all those in management or supervisory roles to be competent in the skills listed above and to actively model the organization’s values.

The recruitment, hiring, promotion, training and development, evaluation and compensation of those in leadership roles should reinforce these skills and fundamental beliefs. Employees will not willingly adopt these behavior patterns unless they see their leaders acting in these ways. When leaders obviously do not model the expectation, they sow the seeds of cynicism, confusion and mistrust.

6. Establish positive work group norms that support the regular exchange of performance feedback among all involved.
Such working agreements give people permission for offering each other constructive feedback. In groups where trust is well established, people understand that critical thinking does not have to mean personal criticism.

7. Address performance problems directly with the intent of building the competence of the individual(s) involved.

When leaders are committed to building the competence of those they support in the organization, they directly address performance problems of employees. They help individuals understand the impact of their behavior—on others, on systems, on the work and offer support, ideas or resources for how to correct the problems. They do not wait to see if the problem will correct itself or assume that the employee “can’t handle it.”

8. Assist people who will not or cannot perform at an acceptable level in finding work elsewhere in the organization or in leaving the organization in ways that do not diminish their credibility.
When individuals who do not perform are left in their positions they undermine trust and confidence that others have—in the work group and in those leadership roles. A different placement often allows a new chance to apply skills in appropriate situations. In cases where people choose not to perform at acceptable levels, the goal should be to help them leave the organization with an understanding that their choices not to change made success impossible.

August '98 News for a Change | Email Editor

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