Toward a Trust Culture

Culture U Abe Lincoln

Imagine this
Imagine walking into your leadership team meeting wondering whether the same old politics was going to play out. Would the same people work their own private agendas, again? Would the same people be silent and watch it happen? Would everyone just be nice and kind and not honest, and let the meeting pass without ever addressing the elephant in the room?

Imagine further that the distrust issues were so deep seated that you begin to wonder if this team would ever be able to be high performance.  We know fear, silo-based work, conflict avoidance, a lack of confidentiality, and a lack of accountability play havoc with an organization’s efficiency, effectiveness, quality, and bottom line. Now imagine the impact that all of this has on the workforce.

For most business leaders today, they don’t have to imagine this scenario. It is how business works today. These behaviors reflect leadership cultures based on power, politics, or personality, with the results being sub-optimal at best. The greatest victim is the loss of trust between individuals, teams, departments, and between senior leadership and the workforce. And yet we keep working this way.

On trust and distrust
Trust is the one principle of relationships we know we must have to be successful in our own lives, in our teams, and our organizations. And yet it is the most elusive for us. It is an amorphous quality of relationships—we can’t touch it, hear it, or see it. But we can feel it. We know when we are trusted and when we trust another. It is hard to attain and easy to lose; and if lost, we may never regain it. Trust is the icon for our personal and interpersonal integrity. Whether we trust others is the outward reflection of whether we trust ourselves. And when the trust is broken, our ability to forgive others is a reflection of our own ability to forgive ourselves.

Distrust in teams, especially leadership teams, can result from our playing by different rules, having different interpretations of events, or have undisclosed expectations of each other or the business.

What if … a Trust Culture?
What if we could create a Trust Culture by:

  • Strategic Direction: Being clear about where the organization is headed so that the workforce knows and can adapt?
  • Governance: Developing a set of operating agreements we all agree to that define how we will work together, make decisions, handle disagreements, and hold each other accountable?
  • Alignment: Creating alignment by having a set of charters for each group or team that spell out their missions and roles in the organization?
  • Ownership: Building a high level of ownership of any organizational change, like a new technology, process redesign, or restructuring that directly engages the people most directly affected by the change?
  • Psychological Safety: Nurturing a leadership culture that supports the practice of “speaking truth to power” without fear of retribution, so that the workforce will want to innovate?

All five of these core dimensions of a trust-based culture are within our reach. What is essential for success, however, is leadership who see building trust as vital to the cultures of their organizations. What If is possible.

How about you? Are there opportunities in your client’s organization or your business to gain more awareness around trust? If so, please share your thoughts below for our continued learning.  

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Dr. Edward Marshall is an adjunct professor at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, and Managing Partner of The Marshall Group, LLC, where he works with companies to build leadership cultures based on trust and collaboration. You can contact him at:, 919.265.9616.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • krishna

    Trusting others doesn’t mean that you quit your responsibility as a leader. When you create a culture of trust, you are demonstrating your belief in others — that, given the proper tools, objectives and leadership guidance, people can and will step up and give their best.

    Study Abroad

  • Planet Education

    Trust is the major factor factor which can make or break anything. trust means you are showing your belief in others along with fulfilling your own responsibility with dedication.