Building trust key when entering new workplace

Posted in Leadership, Mentor Minute

Building trust key when entering new workplace

The Globe and Mail, Jul. 19 2011


I’m just starting as a manager with a new company and the people in my team have all been with the company for ages and seem set in their ways. I need to quickly build trust with this team and get them to rethink their long-standing work habits. How can I do that most effectively?

Think of trust in two dimensions. The first is basic, foundational trust that is developed around your ability to do your job, meet your commitments and be held accountable. Basically, you must demonstrate that you do what you say you are going to do.

The second, deeper level of trust is demonstrated when people feel that you truly support them, can openly acknowledge mistakes and can ask for help. Focusing on developing both levels of trust quickly will be critical to your success.

Establish your credibility

When you enter a new workplace as a leader, or at any level, it is critical that you honour every commitment you make, so the team knows you will get the job done. Ensure you take careful notes when leaving any meeting of what needs to be done and who will be doing it. And ensure you know when your name is listed beside an action item. The faster you can prove to your team that you are 100-per-cent reliable, the better.

Know your people

Start by having casual one-on-one sessions with your colleagues, over lunch or coffee, with the agenda dedicated to getting to know them better. Find some common ground through general background questions: Where did you grow up? What school did you go to? What was your first job? What do you like to do when you’re not at work? And be prepared to answer these same questions yourself. These are simple, easy and safe areas where to start to build a trusting relationship with a deeper level of connection.

Open up

A deeper level of trust exists when people are willing to be vulnerable with each other and feel they have the ability to say “I messed up” or “I need your help” rather than keeping concerns to themselves.

A great trust exercise for your whole team is to set up a meeting to discuss only the following two questions: What is your biggest strength? What is your biggest challenge? As the leader, be prepared to go first and set a tone of openness and honesty. Make sure you give meaningful, insightful answers to these questions. Superficial answers will be transparent and will set the wrong tone for the meeting. Be sure to take notes and learn from the session so you can support your colleagues fully in areas where they are struggling.

Make it okay to err

For a trusting environment to last, it is critical that people know they can make a mistake or ask for help without being belittled, criticized or talked about behind their backs. The environment must be one where people feel safe opening up about what is working, what’s not working and where they need support, rather than simply where they are good to go on their own. Your best move is to establish an open-door policy: “You can tell me anything and not get into trouble.”

Taking these steps will not only build trust and get people thinking of doing things in innovative ways, but it will lead to long-term success because you know the strengths of your team and how you can help them make the most of their aptitudes.


Katie Bennett is a career coach and speaker and is president of Double Black Diamond Coaching in Vancouver.