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Building Trust

Training is Not Usually the Answer!

I often hear from clients that there are “trust issues” in the organization. Some clients see these issues fairly quickly and respond; others know deep down it exists but wait until they have no choice but to react. In nearly all cases, I’m asked about facilitating a workshop on building trust. Not so fast…

A lack of trust doesn’t just happen in an organization – something, or likely many things – cause trust to be lost over time. Trust might be lost because managers share confidential information on employees, people take credit for others’ work, individuals raise issues that concern them only to suffer the consequences of doing so, or managers play favorites in their department.

A workshop will not “fix” this problem. Rather, take these best practice steps to rebuild trust in your organization/department/division or workgroup:

  1. Have a plan in place as to why you are launching this initiative. You must intend to and have a plan to address the issues that arise – no matter where they are in the organization structure. If you cannot, or do not, don’t bother gathering information – you’ll only worsen the situation as employees will be suspicious of your intentions. Be clear that confidentiality will be maintained.

    For example, I have a client who has asked me to conduct such a survey along with follow up interviews. All data is being provided to the client in summary form – the HR group does not want to raw data. This has enabled for 90% participation in the survey and all individuals selected for interviews willingly participated. This took planning though – we socialized the initiative in a variety of ways, with executive support, and provided a clear plan of what we were going to do.

  2. Determine what the underlying causes are for the lack of trust. This might be done based on previous knowledge or via a survey done by a third party to maintain confidentiality. Use interviews to follow up on survey data and get more in depth examples. I also use interviews to follow up with “outliers” – individuals who provide information very dissimilar to others.
  3. When you have gathered your data, group what you can into buckets. For example:
    1. Organizational culture
    2. Department A, B, C
    3. Levels within the organization (senior leadership, business line managers, staff, etc.)
    4. Specific instances where mistrust has occurred; e.g., around performance reviews, between two departments or workgroups, during a merger or acquisition
  4. Develop your plan to respond to the issues to share with senior leadership – your recommendations along with a timeline to resolve the issues.

    My goal is to get employees – from throughout the organization – to participate on a task force to work on the recommendation and measure progress. If you are an outside consultant to organizations – as I am – you want them to take ownership so the impact is stronger and long lasting. This is not a one-time fix and it’s done. It takes a while to rebuild trust.

    Components of rebuilding trust include:

    1. Building strong working relationships
    2. Communicating
    3. Sharing information/knowledge
    4. Holding people accountable for doing their part
  5. Set up key indicators to measure against. You can only gauge improvement if you can measure something.
  6. Re-survey in 3, 6, 9 and 12 months to “check in” on progress – are you moving in the right direction?


Remember that this type of initiative requires significant buy-in (the company wants to understand and resolve the problem) and significant socializing to get buy-in from across the organization to participate in the initiative. It needs to be clear that this does not resolve overnight; but with a plan in place – trust can be rebuilt in the organization.

Or – and as for training – at this point I may move ahead and offer a workshop on how to build trust within an organization. It is of value at this point to help people understand how to build trust moving forward – especially as the organization grows and new employees come on board.

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