5 ways leaders can win trust no matter where their teams work

You can either fight it or accept it, but you can’t deny that the new hybrid work model is here to stay. According to the latest data from Galup, 67% of office workers currently work from home at least part of the time, and there is no indication this will change in the future. What’s more, 49% of remote workers say they’d look for a new job if their employer forced them back into the office full time.

Although many employers and managers are leery of this change, the success or failure of the hybrid work model comes down to trust. Managers must trust their team members to stay on task, and team members must trust that their managers have their best interests in mind when making decisions. Unfortunately, only one in three employees trust their leaders. Lack of trust in the workplace reduces productivity and substantially increases employees’ flight risk, which is undoubtedly contributing to the Great Resignation that many organizations are currently experiencing.


Related: 5 ways to provide helpful feedback


Let’s face it, it’s easier to trust people we see more frequently. As such, the hybrid work model is certain to exasperate the trust problem between managers and their staff unless managers proactively work to increase trust.

Here are some of the most powerful ways you can increase trust with your team members and improve the odds of getting the right results regardless of where they work.

Agree on expectations

Trust is established when people consistently meet their expectations of one another. When trust is broken and relationships fail, it’s usually because expectations were unspoken and not agreed to. The first step toward building a foundation of trust is to agree on the most important things each party needs from the other to be successful and enjoy their work. For example, managers and their team members may want to set expectations around work quality and timeliness, taking accountability for mistakes, providing each other with feedback, and rewarding employees’ good performance with praise and career-development opportunities. When expectations are established and mutually agreed upon, leaders and employees know for certain what they must do to build trust with one another—and what will break it.

Meet regularly (in person or virtually)

Regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings are an essential leadership tool that builds trust and enables managers to help their team members stay accountable. One-on-one meetings are dedicated time to review assignments to ensure follow through and that employees have what they need to be successful. Studies have shown that regular progress meetings increase goal attainment by 95%, and that employee engagement is highest when employees meet weekly with their managers. Commenting on the profound impact regular one-on-one meetings have on reporting relationships, one executive told me, “If your boss isn’t meeting with you regularly, you start to make up stories in your head like, ‘Does my manager not like me?’ If you’re not holding regular one-on-one meetings with the people who report to you, you’re eroding trust and confidence, not creating it.”

Request feedback and accept it with gratitude

One of the quickest ways to increase mutual respect and trust with another person is to ask them for advice on how you can improve. Asking for feedback sends the message, “I respect your opinion, and I trust you won’t take a cheap shot.” This demonstration of vulnerability by a leader creates an environment where everyone feels safe to admit weaknesses and ask for feedback. However, asking for feedback only creates the psychological safety necessary for trust to thrive if managers accept feedback with an attitude of gratitude instead of defensiveness. Employees who give you honest feedback are taking a big risk and are trusting you not to punish them for it. Employees will interpret any defensiveness in your response as punishment and a betrayal of their trust.

Don’t blame

Nothing kills trust quicker than blame. Blame triggers the fight-or-flight response. This inhibits the release of the neurotransmitter oxytocin, which is essential to forming trusting relationships. Blame also shuts down the part of the employee’s brain that controls problem solving. The irony of blaming people for problems is that doing so shuts down their ability to solve the very problems for which they are being blamed! When things go wrong, poor leaders ask, “Who’s at fault?” Good leaders build trust by resisting the urge to blame and instead ask, “Where did the process break down?” Employees trust leaders who consider other factors that contribute to problems instead of simply blaming the person closest to the mess.

Admit mistakes

When things go wrong, it takes tremendous confidence and courage to look in the mirror to see how your actions or action may have contributed to the problem. However, the courage to take accountability for problems is the price of leadership. In fact, it is quite possibly the most powerful way to earn the trust and respect of others precisely because it is so difficult. Leaders who take accountability demonstrate that they won’t look for a scapegoat to save their pride. Taking accountability for problems creates an atmosphere of trust that makes it safe for everyone to follow suit by admitting how they contributed to problems and focusing on solutions.

Leaders inspire trust not by bumping into their staff at the water cooler or passing them in the office hallways, but by taking specific actions to establish the conditions on which trust is built.


Michael Timms is a leadership development consultant, author, and speaker specializing in succession planning and creating accountable cultures. His latest book is How Leaders Can Inspire Accountability.


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