Leadership Insights by Kathryn Pollack

Work gets done faster and more efficiently when people trust one another.

If you are striving to build a high-impact team, trust is foundational.

In my work as a former professional dancer, trust was incredibly important.

At a physical level, you need to trust that the person who is going to catch you is really going to be there for you. At an emotional level, trust is also incredibly important during the creative process, as you are trying out new things, often baring your soul to your teammates. Occurrences arose when there was no time to build trust, and we relied on the respect of each other's abilities and a common objective to create a bridge of trust immediately.


What would happen if we all came to the table with our 'trust jars full' in our organizations?

Kathryn_blue dress trust

I first heard this from Rosie Steeves, a very gifted leadership coach based in Vancouver. This was a huge light bulb moment for me. I realized that I had taken this approach in much of my life. It stems from a positive orientation towards life in general and in the belief that people are genuinely doing the best they can. 

I understand that not everyone has a positive orientation towards life, so let's start here: We were all hired to work in the same organization. It makes sense then that we are all striving to achieve the same objective and conquer the same goals. Our social awareness skills can help us to identify the instances when this is not the case, and we can set boundaries to ensure we are not taken advantage of.

A generally accepted psychological definition of interpersonal trust, thanks to Mayer, Davis & Schoorman(1995), is:

Trust = ability + benevolence + integrity

Ability, or competence is important; we can't trust someone if we do not feel they are competent. Additionally, having good intentions and demonstrating kindness while following through on promises is foundational to building trust. If we are demonstrating these three qualities with others, we are building trust.

Organizational trust includes trust between team members, between employees and the leadership team or one specific leader, and trust between groups. It builds upon interpersonal trust and includes things like policies, processes and the work environment. Policies and processes that demonstrate fairness and distributive justice increase organizational trust as does how people are treated, the corporate culture they experience, and the behavior that is rewarded.

Walking the talk builds organizational trust.  

Imagine that the trust you hold for another person is contained in a figurative "trust jar". The typical approach when we start a relationship is that the trust jar is empty and people need to earn our trust over time. This is usually done through small demonstrations of trustworthiness: I say I am going to do something; I follow through, the trust jar you hold for me fills up just a little. Over time, the jar fills up. If I fail to stick to a commitment, the trust jar empties slightly. Of course, there are big things that can also  fill up a trust jar; but studies have shown that it is the small things that build trust over time to a meaningful level. 


Ideas on how to build trust in your teams:

  • Get to know one another as people. Set aside time for team-building exercises. This doesn't need to be onerous. Use 5 or 10 minutes in your weekly meeting to consistently run a short exercise. Consider doing some team-building off-site. It's amazing how quickly you can get to know one another when the physical structure of the workplace is not staring down on you. Side note: Respecting the boundaries of each individual is really important. Oversharing or expecting others to overshare does not build trust. It demonstrates a lack of maturity and social awareness.
  • Understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team members. This ties into point 1. We need to know who to ask for help when we need it. We should also be ready, willing and able to offer our expertise when it will help the team to achieve an objective.   
  • Have a willingness to be vulnerable not always be right. Trust involves some level of risk which means we have to be courageous and vulnerable. Admit when you don't know the answer or when you have made a mistake. Be willing to let others take the helm when appropriate.
  • Demonstrate consistency and commitment. Walk the talk, demonstrate the behaviors you want to see and hold your team accountable for doing the same.  


One of the coolest things about trust is that it is generative; it can produce more trust, creating a positive feedback loop or virtuous cycle.

I don't know about you, but I will continue working to create an environment where we can be caught in the virtuous cycle of trust in the workplace.


Kathryn Pollack, a keenly attuned and accountable senior leader who believes in bringing your whole self to each moment and everything you are to all that you do. Learn more about Kathryn here.



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