What it means to build trusting relationships in the workplace

21 January 2019 by Kendelle Tekstar
blog author

Trust… A topic I speak a lot about with teams. Whether it’s for the sake of collaboration, effective delegation, or simply having meaningful, caring relationships with teammates where vulnerability can thrive, trust is ever-important to have a high performing team. Overlooking the importance of building a sense of trust in a team is like building a house without a foundation.

I typically encounter two types of people:

  1. People who are generally trusting, see people as reliable and honest, and believe what others say. These people will typically assume someone is trustworthy until they prove otherwise, and at that point they would become more wary.

  2. People who are generally wary of others’ intentions, find it difficult to trust others, and approach relationships cautiously so they are unlikely to be fooled by people. Oftentimes, these people have been wronged significantly in the past and suffered negative consequences personally; they will typically assume others are not trustworthy until they prove themselves time and time again – it is a gradual process where concrete evidence is needed for rapport to be established.

Which type of person do you think you are? Have a think on how this might help and hinder you.

There is a short but sweet book I always suggest when it comes to addressing trust,The Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work. I’d like to share the four distinctions of trust it explores so you can consider where your team is thriving, and where there is room for improvement when it comes to trust.


Sincerity – “I mean what I say, say what I mean and act accordingly”.

Reliability – “You can count on me to deliver what I promise!”

Competence – “I know I can do this. I don’t know if I can do that”.

Care – “We’re in this together”.

(Credit to the author, Charles Feltman, for the above definitions)

Let’s lay out a scenario where all four distinctions come into play and I’d like you to test your understanding of which is which…

Sam is Ellen’s line manager in a sales organisation. Sam has quickly moved up the ranks after working for the company for three years. Ellen has been with the company just over a year now.

Ellen has become frustrated by working with Sam because she believes he has a micromanagement approach; he constantly checks in on her progress daily, and if he involves her in big pieces of work he wins, he delegates inconsequential tasks to her when she is actually very keen to get more senior client-facing experience. Ellen is the second person Sam has taken on as a direct report, and he has been given very ambitious targets for his team in 2019.


Everyone in the office loves Sam – he is your all-around good guy and invested in his colleagues lives, in and outside of work. He makes sure to spend time getting to know people on a personal level and offering support where he can, especially to his direct reports because he wants to see them develop and thrive.


Sam’s other direct report, Ethan, has been gradually struggling more and more in his role since joining the company a year and a half ago as more has been asked of him. Ethan has made a couple of crucial avoidable mistakes that led to major deals being lost. Accordingly, Sam started keeping a very close eye on Ethan’s activity and gets involved in all of his pitches to ensure past mistakes don’t happen again. Despite this, Ethan really cares about Sam as a friend and wants to see their team succeed.


Although she is new to sales, Ellen delivers. When there is an important deadline, Sam can count on her to hit it. In 1-to-1 meetings, Sam sets out very specific tasks for Ellen to complete, and when he checks in with her at the end of each day, she has followed through with the actions she committed to with clear effort invested and attention to detail. Sam says he trusts her to deliver. Ellen is performing well, but still has a lot to learn about sales and benefits from Sam’s input.

So what do we think is going on in this team dynamic regarding trust?

A couple of key things I would pick up on:

  • Sam believes Ellen is sincere and reliable, but perhaps questions her competence due to her lack of sales experience. Accordingly, he is very watchful to the point of encroaching on her autonomy, which impairs her ability to take ownership and she doesn’t feel very empowered. Furthermore, it keeps him from delegating tasks to her in order for her to develop new skills. Considering the above, Ellen may not trust Sam is being sincere when he says he trusts her.

  • It would appear that Sam has picked up his micro-manager style from his lack of confidence in Ethan. Sam knows that Ethan cares, but is he competent, reliable, and sincere? We’d have to explore the ‘crucial avoidable mistakes’ he has made in the past to know what the culprit(s) is/are.

Similar to what you were thinking? Comment with additional thoughts!

To wrap up this exercise, have a think on what you might suggest to the team to overcome these trust issues. And even more important, have a think on your own team dynamics and what you might do to maintain or increase trust!

At Acre Frameworks, we support individuals and teams with professional development coaching and training to address topics like trust. Contact me via kendelle.tekstar@acre.com to learn more.

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