Building Trust

Building Trust without Trust Falls
No Trust Falls Required!

In any relationship, family, group, team, organization, community, or company, trust plays a significantly influential role. When we trust someone we have confidence that they won’t harm us. We can relax and feel safe around them. On the other hand, when there is distrust fear tends to creep in. We get defensive, disengage, and withdraw a bit in order to protect ourselves.

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Trust is essential for constructive communication, fostering relationships, friendships, cooperation, well as our own personal growth.

The Neuroscience of Trust

According to sociologists, trust is the “glue of society” organizations, groups, teams, families, and relationships. Trust and distrust create an attitude that impacts how we think, feel, and act in many situations. When we are teenagers, the very preservation of establishing trust is an overarching concern which continues into emerging adulthood—and if we’re honest the rest of our lives. Building trust within any organization is certainly a critical aspect of effective leadership and successful teamwork. Researchers have explored this topic, shedding light on the strategies and behaviors that actually foster trust. What they found is that people who work in high-trust companies vs. people who work in low-trust companies, report…

  • 106% more energy at work
  • 76% more engagement
  • 74% less stress
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 40% less burnout
  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives
  • 13% fewer sick days

Leadership that builds trust and fosters an enhanced “culture of belonging” goes a long way to establishing a strong foundation of connection. Trust is what helps to build the psychological safety needed to nurture inclusion, team engagement, and even innovation. Without psychological safety, individuals tend to avoid taking on risks beyond just “doing their job.” Trying something new or even different tends to be avoided in low trust organizations.

The Speed of Trust

Stephen M. R. Covey shares in The Speed of Trust, that when trust is low within a company or an organization, speed goes down while the costs go up. Same is true in educational environments in that whenever trust is low, engagement drops, people become more guarded, apprehensive, and less likely to believe things can improve. Afterall, when you are part of a community where you feel safe and can be yourself authentically, your engagement level is higher. You contribute more freely, willingly, and are more collaborative. When you find yourself living in a community where you don’t feel safe, you’re more guarded. You suspect other people’s intentions, you are more cautious with sharing your ideas at work, and you’re more likely to play the CYA  game. (CYA meaning “Cover Your a$$!” As opposed to the digispeak or chatspeak definition “See ya” for any gamers out there.)

Trust is essential for organizational success. And both leadership and followership play a pivotal role in building trust in any group. Leaders and followers co-create a high-trust environment by being transparent, sharing information openly, providing regular feedback, as well as encouraging and maintaining open communication. When trust is instilled across an organization, individuals feel safer to take risks, collaborate, and innovate, which ultimately leads to better outcomes for everyone involved.

The Ripple Effect of Trust

In any organization there is a ripple effect of trust that takes place. When trust is prevalent within a team, it creates an environment where collaboration flourishes. Team members feel more comfortable exchanging ideas and relying on one another’s strengths. This shared confidence paves the way for improved teamwork and collaboration. Plus, when there is a trusted atmosphere, barriers to innovation are reduced since individuals are more likely to express creative solutions without fear of undue criticism or rejection. In addition, trust leads to a stronger alignment on goals, streamlining efforts, and fostering a collective resilience in the face of challenges.

A study published in the Harvard Business Review identified key behaviors and practices that set high-performing teams apart in terms of trust:

  • Collaboration: Effective teams don’t leave collaboration to chance
  • Communication: They keep colleagues informed and in the loop
  • Credit Sharing: They share credit for achievements with others
  • Embracing Disagreements: They believe disagreements lead to improvement
  • Addressing Tension: Proactively addressing tension helps maintain trust
  • Clear Values: Organizations articulate their core values and live up to them consistently
  • Dignity and Respect: Treating others and their work with dignity fosters trust.
  • Vulnerability and Confidentiality: Knowing when to be vulnerable and open, as well as when to protect confidences, contributes to trustworthiness
  • Relationships and Engagement: Meeting people where they are and creating safe spaces.
  • Shared Decision-Making and Autonomy: Collaborating on a shared vision and addressing any systemic inequities

Developmentally Building Trust

Remember that trust in any situation is always a multifaceted concept. While these researchers do provide insights that can serve as valuable guidance for organizations who seek to cultivate trust within their group, brining trust to life and understanding the dynamic of trust between leadership and followership can be challenging. If you are looking for an interactive, engaging, safe way to help any group develop trust among its members, you might want to check out a sequence of Trust Games from the Games That KiCK™ series. Frank Crockett’s creative facilitation demonstrates how trust determines the level of success in any group. You will learn how to highlight the important influence communication skills and approaches have on building trust.

Participants interactively learn that focusing on a goal—while taking care of others—can determine any successful group outcome. This easy to facilitate sequence of trust initiatives explores how supporting people outside their comfort zone is paramount to developing more trust in both followers and leaders.

Trust and Communication

Additionally, if you want to simulate the reality of how trust and communication issues interact when working with other people in a chaos-filled world, consider using the Tank Game as a super-engaging interactive learning activity. This experiential partnership exercise from our series of Games That KiCK™ will help participants discover the difference between “telling people what to do” and “people actually doing it.” It is a super-fun way to point out the synergistic responsibility between leaders and followers while highlighting the importance of successful communication skills. The debrief after playing this game, will help individuals explore what helps people “get it” and clearly demonstrates how trust determines the level of success in relationships, in groups, and in life.


Bartram, T. and Casimir, G. (2007), The relationship between leadership and follower in‐role performance and satisfaction with the leader: The mediating effects of empowerment and trust in the leader. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 28 No. 1, pp. 4-19.

Covey, S. R., & Merrill, R. R. (2008). The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780743297301

Frei, F. X. F., & Morriss, A. (2020). Begin with Trust: The first step to becoming a genuinely empowering leader. Harvard Business Review.

Govier, T. (1998). Dilemmas of Trust. McGill-Queen’s University Press. ISBN 9780773517974

Through real life examples taken from experiences, interviews, literature, and even films; this captivating book explores the importance of trust. It also delves into how self-trust is connected to self-respect and self-esteem. By encouraging readers to reflect on their attitudes, towards trust and distrust this captivating book offers insights into understanding into our relationships with others while gaining a deeper understanding of ourselves.

Hamel, G., & Zanini, M. (2020). Humanocracy: Creating Organizations As Amazing As the People Inside Them. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press. ISBN 9781633696020

Lewis, A. (2022). Good Leadership: It All Starts With Trust. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Robinson, D. G., & DePass, M. (2023). What Better Leadership Looks Like. TD Magazine, 50-55. Alexandria, VA: Association for Talent Development.

Zak, P. J. (2017). The Neuroscience of Trust: Management behaviors that foster employee engagement. Harvard Business Review, 84-90.

Fran Kick

FRAN KICK works with corporate and education organizations, groups, and associations that want to develop better leaders and smarter followers for faster long-term results. As an author, educational consultant, and professional speaker, he always shares relevant research, real-world insights, and actionable ideas YOU can implement to motivate yourself. So you can Kick It In and Take the Lead at work, in school, at home, and in life!