Building a Culture of Trust

Key Takeaways:

  • Trust is an important part of healthy relationships and company cultures because it improves communication, teamwork, commitment and productivity
  • Types of trust: capability, character and communication
  • Three tips to build a culture of trust include following through with commitments, communicating appropriately and being respectful
  • Three tips to re-build trust are to acknowledge what happened, take small steps and be patient

Trust is at the foundation of healthy relationships. At its core, trust is the willingness of one party to be vulnerable to the actions of another. It is an expectation that two parties will act in a way that is mutually beneficial. For these reasons, trust is a key element of effective communication, teamwork, employee commitment and productivity. It leads to stronger working relationships and a healthier organizational culture.

Because of the inherent vulnerability involved in trusting relationships, it is widely understood that trust must be earned. This is true whether it is between two colleagues, a manager and employee, or even between an employee and the organization at large. In some instances, it can be hard to build and sustain because individuals may not be aware of the unintentional ways that they have broken trust with their colleagues.

Trust helps to make challenging conversations easier, teams more integrated and employees more engaged. Exploring ways in which trust can be built can help individuals and companies create stronger relationships and healthier cultures.

Types of trust

There is a growing body of research on trust in the workplace, and models have emerged that help us understand how it is built and maintained. One such model is from Michelle and Dennis Reina. Their model of trust outlines three critical components: capability trust, character trust and communication trust.

Capability trust is a trust of competence; it grows when there is confidence in the perceived degree of knowledge, skills and ability of an individual. Character trust is the expectation that individuals will do what they say they will do and can be depended upon. Communication trust is the willingness to share information, tell the truth, admit mistakes, and maintain confidentiality.

Considering all dimensions of trust is important whether you are building it for the first time or working to re-earn it after trust was broken.

Three tips to build trust

When establishing a new relationship, it’s important that individuals strive to build trust with each other. The elements of Reina’s model give us a place to start when building trust: establishing capability, character and competence.  Following are three tips to help build trust in new relationships.

  1. Follow through with commitments. Saying what you’ll do and then doing what you’ve said is critical to building trust. When commitments are upheld, we build greater trust in others’ abilities and their intentions. We come to expect that what is said is the truth and that others have our best interests in mind.
  1. Communicate appropriately. In order to become trustworthy, it is necessary to communicate well. This includes both sharing information openly and maintaining confidentiality where necessary.
  1. Be respectful. Respect is about treating others with courtesy, listening to their ideas with an open-mind, approaching conflict in a healthy way and appreciating them for bringing all of who they are into the relationship. Treating others with respect shows you truly care and are committed to their success. It can be helpful to set ground rules for how you’d like to work together so that all parties know what is expected.

Three tips to re-build trust

When a mistake or betrayal happens, relationships can be harmed, employees tend to feel disengaged and the company culture can be damaged. For these reasons, it’s important to consider ways in which to re-build trust after it has been broken.

  1. Acknowledge what happened. The first step in re-building trust is to acknowledge what happened. Rather than ignoring a betrayal, talking candidly about what happened can help both parties to move on. Making amends or apologizing signals to the other party that you have taken accountability and want to move forward.
  1. Take small steps. As you work to re-build trust, you have to take action. These are the same actions you take to build trust initially: following through on commitments, communicating appropriately and being respectful. But after trust has been eroded, you need to look for whatever opportunities exist to take action, no matter how small they seem. Over time, these small steps will build on themselves to make a difference.
  1. Be patient. It can take time to mend a relationship. One of the most important things you can do is to be patient and let it grow over time. In order to be done effectively, the process cannot be rushed.

We know that trust leads to greater intimacy, stronger relationships and a healthier company culture. Trust and psychological safety enable people to take risks, lean into changes and perform at their best. Trust can build confidence in each other and in the organization.

Trust can take a long time to be earned and can easily be damaged. Whether you are building it for the first time early in a work relationship or re-building it once it has been lost, the best thing you can do is take proactive steps to build the relationship and then continue to maintain it over time.


Krot, K & Lewicka, D. (2012) The importance of trust in manager-employee relationships. International Journal of Electronic Business Management, Vol 10, No 3, p 224-233.

Reina, D.S. & Reina, M.L. (2015) Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace: Building Effective Relationships in Your Organization. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Sousa-Lim, M., Michel, J.W., & Caetano, A. (1993) Clarifying the important of trust in organizations as a component of effective work rel


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