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Trust is falling and failing in our teams and organisations globally. As a result, once-trusted brands, industries, leaders and institutions are losing credibility, popularity and market share. Here’s some research on the decline of trust and powerful ways organisations can rebuild it.

A lack of trust is one of the main reasons teams and organisations fail. The findings of the current Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry is just one of many examples of how a lack of trust can affect an industry. The recent decline of Facebook’s share price is another.

We spend a lot of time building trust into the SuccessCulture of organisations. Here’s some of the research we share with them on organisational trust and how to flip a dysfunctional, untrusting culture around. For quick references our resources include:

  • Long term global (including Australian) research in The 2018 Edelman TRUST BAROMETER
  • Lessons in trust and team effectiveness from multinational brands Google, Netflix and Uber, plus
  • Actionable insights from Steven Covey, Simon Sinek, Patrick Lencioni and Frances Frei.

Before we go there let’s look at Trust by its definition.

What is trust? A: firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.

Trust in Organisations – The Research

The Edelman TRUST BAROMETER is an annual survey that measures trust in government, media, businesses and NGO’s globally. 2018 is its 18th edition and here are some of the key findings:

  • Nearly 7 in 10 respondents say that building trust is the No. 1 job for CEOs, ahead of high-quality products and services.
  • Trust sits with individuals not institutions.

Specifically to Australia: ‘In 2018, trust in Australia continues to decline across all four key institutions: media, business, government and NGOs. This has resulted with Australia sitting just four percentage points above the world’s least trusting country, Russia.

Trust in media has fallen to a new all-time-low of 31 percent, and 60 percent of Aussies are disengaged with news from major organizations’

Trust In Teams – The Research

A few years ago Google embarked on extensive research into what makes a perfect team. The findings are very interesting. They found out for example that the success of a team was more about how the team worked together rather than who is on the team. The also found that psychological safety was the most important factor contributing to a team’s effectiveness.

What is psychological safety? ‘a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.[1] It can be defined as “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career”’

Or in other words…a shared belief by team members they can trust their working environment.

Trust sits with individuals

Identifying the Red Flags for Trust Issues in an Organisation

A book I often refer to, to help teams recognise areas that need work is ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ by Patrick Lencioni, which digs deep on five interrelated issues that undermine the performance of a team all in some way. The top one being Absence of Trust.

Here’s a great article on those 5 Dysfunctions of a Team and How to Counter Them for Success. And here are some signs that might indicate your team has trust issues.

What To Do When Trust is Broken

Have you seen the Frances Frei TED Talk on ‘How to rebuild trust?’ It is brilliant on so many levels. Frei is a Harvard Business School professor who in 2017 was embedded as a full-time employee at Uber to help them figure out how to rebuild trust after the company lost respect with their staff, customers and community. She has identified authenticity, logic and empathy as the three essential components of trust.

“A loss of trust is no different than most problems — before you can solve it, first you have to understand how it works. Trust has three components, authenticity, logic and empathy. When all three of these things are working, we have great trust, but if any one of these three gets shaky, if any one of these three wobbles, trust is threatened.”

Let’s discuss what Frances Frei describes as ‘the wobbles’ when trust can be lost:

Lack of Authenticity

A lack of authenticity needs no explanation really. When someone or something seems fake or their story or context or values doesn’t match the actions we find it hard to trust that brand, organisation or person.

5 Ways You can Demonstrate Authenticity and build Trust

…with a respectful nod to the great Steven Covey of the book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

1 Try on a ‘what you see is what you get’ approach to your leadership style. Be transparent, open and most importantly, honest. Tell the truth. Try to err on the side of disclosure, and don’t have hidden agendas or objectives. Never withhold information.

2 Show respect and genuine care for others. Respect the dignity of every person on your team, especially those who don’t do anything directly for you.

3 Make things right when you’re wrong, apologise quickly. Compensate where possible and demonstrate personal humility. Don’t cover things up. Don’t let your personal pride get in the way of doing the right thing.

4 Communicate person to person not position to position. Take the time to learn who your team members are and what they are doing for the organisation. Ask questions with genuine interest about their role.

Build trustEncourage people to be the expert they are. What they are passionate about. Tell them how their insight into the challenges and opportunities associated with their role is highly valued. Then let them step up. Let them share their knowledge and trust them to make a difference to the workplace environment.

But even more importantly, allow time for your team members to communicate with each other! Facilitate times – regular times – where they can get to know each other, not just over a work matter. Build on Team Intelligence™

One of our favourite ways to build authenticity, Team Intelligence and trust is to encourage each meeting in the organisation take 5 minutes before discussing the agenda, to go around the table and have everyone say what they are grateful for today. It is the most grounding, leveling and bonding activity that yields extraordinary results.

   2) Lack of Rigor in Logic

Frei talks about the ‘rigor of our logic’ which can wobble if either of these is lacking:

Quality as in the quality of your idea/understanding/logic and being able to back it up in a way people can verify. If your logic is wobbly then of course trust will be wobbly too.

Communication as in the inability to effectively communicate your logic.

In the Ted Talk Frei suggests if your ability to communicate an idea is wobbly try changing the way you communicate. Crazy right? As simple as that. Tweak what you do. Her suggestion is to try pitching or putting an idea forward with the punchline (idea) right up top and back it up with the story or explanation.

If presenting is something you or your team struggle with check out the tips in these articles:

Lack of Empathy

Empathy: the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. Empathy is something we teach and talk about a lot.

Here’s a great explanation on why we need empathy in the workplace which we borrowed from an article we wrote on How empathy powers team success:

‘Without empathy, people and company culture have the propensity to be self-absorbed and self-fulfilling which ultimately affects every aspect of a business from employees to suppliers and clients. Here’s a great case study on two companies, a bakery (empathetic) and an airline (apathetic)’.

And teams really want it. In another thought-provoking Google study, looking at over 10,000 manager reviews, Google employees weighed in on what makes a highly effective manager. Turns out having a manager who takes an interest in their team’s lives and careers was in the top three of the most important attributes.

Understanding your team and your team understanding each other is Team Intelligence at its best – a perfect combination of effective communication and empathy. When leaders and teams listen, really listen, using empathy to comprehend what each individual is thinking or feeling without attempting for change or fix them or solve the problem, the person feels appreciated as a human being; they feel valued. And this is the space where trust and highly effective teams evolve.

Here’s some more on Team Intelligence™

Frei also offers an excellent suggestion on how to immediately improve empathy and authentic communication: Put the phones away! Stop being so distracted!

Due to the constant demands and distractions of daily life, it can be hard to create the time and space that empathy needs. The fix is pretty easy: “Identify where, when and to whom you are likely to offer your distraction,” says Frei. “That should trace pretty perfectly to when, where and to whom you are likely to withhold your empathy.” If you can truly listen to the people you’re with, you have a chance to fix the wobble.

Indeed, we do live in a distracted society. Our busyness and our pace see us reviewing, absorbing and moving on in our interactions much like social media. We are constantly switched on multitask mode, leaving all our windows open in order to be available, not forget anything, and stay on top.

The problem with this is not only it is ineffective because our brains are “not wired to multitask well but we give the impression we don’t care.

Profoundly good communication and genuine connection are one of the many positive results of practising mindfulness and being present to the needs of others.

Good leaders make people feel that they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery. Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organisation. When that happens, people feel centred, and that gives their work meaning.

One of the best ways to demonstrate being engaged in the moment and to other people’s needs is with active listening.


Be present, look up. Put the phones down and get to know the people around you. Read these 5 articles on how to improve your trust:

  1. 3 ways a professional can get R-E-S-P-E-C-T
  2. 5 Ways to Build Team Intelligence and Trust
  3. How Marriott is Winning with 5 Core Values
  4. How empathy powers team success
  5. 10 Ways to Immediately Improve your Communication

And take this final note from the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer as a motivator: Although people want to trust each other, sometimes they need a kickstart from their Manager and Organisation to get this right…” Business is now expected to be an agent of change. The employer is the new safe house in global governance and 64 per cent believe a company can take actions that both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in the community where it operates”’.