Trust is needed wherever and whenever we work with other people. It’s a short cut, another mechanism our brains use to save us worrying about whether we can rely on other people to do what they say they will do.
Unfortunately, people don’t always talk about trust – they either feel that they trust or don’t trust another person, and that’s the end of it. But trust shouldn’t be a one-off, binary decision: people can move from being a source of concern to a trusted friend or colleague depending on their actions and behaviour.
What is trust?
Feelings about trust come from both the head and the heart. The head looks for signs of competence (does the person know what they’re talking about? Do they act with integrity?), whereas the heart is more concerned with the emotional ties between parties. These two aspects can become blurred, and we sometimes rely on gut feelings or emotional reactions to someone when a slightly more detached analysis of the situation may be more suitable. A trusted colleague, for example, may lack expertise or knowledge about the thing you are trusting them to deliver.
This makes it important to try to separate the two thoughts about someone’s trustworthiness and to act accordingly – to seek more information or evidence about the person’s behaviour, rather than acting purely on gut instinct.
Why is trust important to hybrid teams?
Trust is a critical aspect of working as part of any team. Teams that trust each other perform better, and trust is especially important when we don’t see each other face-to-face, because we have fewer opportunities to gather information about others, their motivations, and their trustworthiness. If people miss their deadlines, break promises, and neglect their relationships, misunderstandings and conflicts can occur more readily.
When we trust each other, we are more inclined to share knowledge and expertise, which in turn helps a team draw on all the skills and experience of its members. If we don’t trust others with our knowledge, then it is not available to help the team meet its goals.
What can we do to build and maintain trust in a hybrid working world?
- Make an effort to be more ‘trust conscious’
There is a need to be more overt about maintaining trusting relationships within hybrid work models. If everyone tries to demonstrate trustworthy behaviour and thinks about how their actions could be interpreted to the detriment of a trusting relationship, then that’s a good start.
- Take active measures to build trusting relationships
Trust may need to be built, strengthened, or maintained, depending on the stage of a team’s development. For a new team, spending time getting to know each other as people and learning about competencies and skills can set the foundations of trust. This can be achieved by remote workers, but the activities need to be planned and supported as essential, not a ‘nice-to-have’.
- Build new norms around a positive ‘propensity to trust’
Many people choose to trust others until such a time as that trust is brought into question. A positive “propensity to trust” means individuals give others the benefit of the doubt, don’t go looking for reasons not to trust others, and don’t feel the need to check up on their colleagues’ work.
- Establish a mechanism to address breaches of trust
Although important at any stage, a mechanism for addressing breaches of trust is important and can be tackled once the foundations are in place in an established team. Ensuring realistic expectations and deadlines are set and being open about any difficulties also helps strengthen trust with colleagues.
In our experience, trust is one of the most important ingredients for hybrid working success. In the long term, organisations should make an active effort to build trust between their employees while also ensuring that there are healthy ways of addressing conflict to avoid breaches of trust. Productive teams need to operate in a culture where difficult issues and challenges can be discussed openly. Should organisations achieve this, they may find that many of the challenges typically associated with hybrid working become less of an issue and that a number of opportunities and benefits begin to open up before them.