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Trust: The Foundation of a Successful Team

For most project managers, daily work includes interactions with other individuals. Your ability to manage these interactions plays an important role in defining your team’s efficiency and effectiveness. When people work well together, they bring cohesion to a project. Human connections built on trust become a foundational element for increasing the success of your organization. 


Trust increases engagement, motivation, and innovation.


The integration of trust behaviors within your organization impacts the efficiency of your employees, the effectiveness of the project’s outcome, and the cohesiveness of your team. Trust in the workplace is especially relevant given the current COVID-19 crisis. Research from Edelman suggests that the world after the pandemic will need trust more than ever before. In fact, employees will require it to successfully work and connect with each other. Individuals will be looking for workplaces that offer safety and inclusiveness. With greater external fear, people are seeking a haven in a world in chaos. If your organization can accommodate them, you’ll increase your ability to hire top candidates and maintain quality employees. Security enables team members to focus more effectively on the job, whether in a building or working remotely. With trust in place, focus stays firmly on a project’s success.


Trust occurs when employees feel as if they have been positively impacted by another individual. Imagine a team that feels safe talking about out-of-the-box ideas or one with members who know that they can trust their team members to have work completed as expected. Maybe they believe that their work is valuable because other team members take the time to share their appreciation. This type of work environment is a place where people stay authentic and focused on productive activities.  


On the other hand, think about how you felt in a time when you did not trust a co-worker or your boss. You might have spent extra time trying to protect yourself from what might have felt like potential harm. Or you may have withheld information thinking that it would be used against you. These types of behaviors take away from productive work time and move individuals out of what they should be doing in the present.


When you make trust a part of your team’s environment, you change the entire structure of the workday. Employees are more likely to follow through on goals set by a manager that they trust and to be more forthcoming about the challenges they see on their levels. Trust comes from maintaining constant and authentic connections with individuals within a team or organization. The trust actions of individuals and of the group at large can be measured by how well actions match words. 


This alignment of actions and words takes some time and effort to integrate into your daily practices. Trust involves managing behaviors while doing the work of the day. Trust is also variable. David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and the author of The Truth About Trust, suggests that trust evolves or ebbs and flows in the workplace. Sometimes an employee might cause a decrease in overall trust, while another employee’s actions have enhanced the trust of the team. These interactions change throughout the day and are dependent on the people working.


Each time someone takes action within an organization, the trust level is impacted. For instance, if an individual on your team says they will get work done by a particular time and then do not complete the task, trust is fractured. If your boss tells you that your work is appreciated, but then later says that work on the project was not satisfactory, you begin to wonder what to believe. With these negative examples, we can see just how quickly one or two small actions can cause a bigger fracture within a team. The number of fractures that occur determines the degree of trust/distrust in the relationship. The same is true for strengthening trust. If you have a project schedule in place and all team members complete their tasks on time, you’ve increased trust. The team’s actions matched the words that were set forth in the agenda. If your boss tells you that your work is well done and then shares this praise in a meeting, you have cohesion between the words that are being said and the actions surrounding the event.


The challenge is to stay aware of your behaviors as you do the work of the day. If actions do not match words, you probably can assume that actions are a better measure of a person’s authentic self. As a project manager, look for ways to keep the team on track by measuring how cohesive they are in their actions. This is a daily practice that can be instilled into your workday. If you are looking to strengthen the trust in your organization, it is a good place to start!


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Written by Dr. Lynette Reed

Writer, researcher and advisor on human potential for personal and organizational development, Dr. Lynette Reed has mentored people from in businesses, not-for-profits, schools, allied health agencies, chambers of commerce, government and churches. She has taught courses on team building, leadership, ethics, world religion and world cultures. Her current literary contributions include an executive summary paperback titled, Fixing the Problem: Making Changes in How You Deal with Challenges, as well as book contributions, articles, guest radio appearances and a series of children’s books with Abingdon Press. She is also a co-founder and board member of the Institute for Soul-Centered Leadership at Seton Cove. Lynette holds a Doctor of Ministry in Spirituality, Sustainability, and Inter-Religious Dialogue and a Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Contact her at expectations2reality@icloud.com.

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    Important topic, for sure Lynette!

    So what do you think about trust in the new World of Zoom. Issue or not? I’m wondering if the personal box, a window into a worker’s private home, might increase trust instead of what might be more intuitive, to distrust newage communication.

    Also, what about today’s lack of confidence in science and data; do you think that’s a problem for team leaders / PMs who are presenting ever-changing facts from the ground? From my days in the field, that’s what I remember the most about trust… people don’t trust changes (in plans, or otherwise) easily, even when the data supports the move.

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    (reposting comment from Dr. Lynette Reed)

    Thanks! I think that trust has more to do with how we respond to each other regardless of remote or in person. You build trust primarily by having words and actions match in a way that builds consistency of behavior. If you think about people you trust they usually are people that have cohesion in what they say to you and what they do.

    With regards to lack of confidence in data, that is a tough question. I would probably differentiate between trust and fear. Many people fear change. If you had a team leader who already has a strong foundation of trust, with cohesion of words and actions along with good communication, then the fear level would probably be lower, which in turn would help to manage the change. The data and science, might not have any meaning if there was already no underlying trust. In our society today there seems to be a more binary thinking that puts data and science on the curb. When a team or person operates in binary thinking you reduce the trust and the use of data or science. The focus moves to right or wrong, good or bad of opinion instead of the use of critical thinking skills. Hope this answers your questions.

    Would be interested into hear your thoughts.

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