Speed of trust

Feb 25, 2024

Low trust in workplaces incurs a hidden cost, hindering efficiency, innovation, and collaboration.

Is your firm trapped in a slow-motion saga, dragging its heels on even the most promising initiatives? Does navigating internal politics feel like wading through molasses? If so, you’re not alone.

Many companies unknowingly pay a hefty “trust tax,” a hidden cost inflicted by low-trust work environments. As Stephen M. R. Covey explains in his excellent book The Speed of Trust, this lack of trust creates friction, grinding down efficiency and innovation. When team members don’t trust each other communication is ineffective, extra process steps are required, and back-channel politics thrive.

Trust defined. Normally when we think of whether we trust someone, we default to an analysis of their character. We often picture smiling faces and firm handshakes. But true trust goes deeper, reaching beyond superficial gestures. It’s about feeling confident in someone’s character, intentions, skills, and track record. With that, it’s important to understand that true trust requires confidence in four primary domains:

  1. Integrity. This is probably the easiest to analyze because it’s the default character analysis we’re used to performing. However, even beyond traits like honesty, true integrity requires that your words and deeds are in alignment with each other. Do you walk the talk? Do you have the courage to do the right thing even when it’s difficult?
  2. Intent. This is all about motive. Why do you do what you do? For people to trust each other, they need to believe that the other person has their interests and well-being in mind. To foster trust with those around us, we need to start from a place of gracious interpretation to avoid the “fundamental attribution error.” Simply put, the “fundamental attribution error” is when we excuse our negative behavior because of extenuating circumstances, but we believe the bad behavior of others is due to character flaws. For instance, if I cut you off in traffic it’s because I’m a jerk, but if you cut me off in traffic it’s because you’re late for an important doctor’s appointment.
  3. Capabilities. Do you have the skills, knowledge, etc. to get the job done? This is particularly crucial in work environments where we trust others to execute on our behalf. For any project-based team to function, each member has to trust that their counterpart can perform their role.
  4. Results. Do you have documented proof that you’ve successfully executed in the past? If someone has the basic capabilities and can show you they’ve used those capabilities successfully in the past, it’s much easier to trust them to perform again. This can be a crucial sticking point when it comes to delegation; it’s hard to take the plunge and trust someone with a task they haven’t done before. However, if we can graciously accept that mistakes will happen along the way and that our teammates will learn and grow, the results will come, and trust can be cemented.

Waves of trust. Building trust isn’t a solo act; it’s a contagious wave that ripples outward, transforming everything it touches. The four attributes described above are the foundations of interpersonal trust. They provide a lens through which we can view the trustworthiness of others, but more importantly, they inform the behaviors that we need to adopt to make sure that others feel comfortable trusting us. This is the backbone of “self-trust,” allowing each of us to be seen as trustworthy by those around us. Once that foundation is in place, trust can begin to radiate outward to include:

  • Relationship trust. This is the interpersonal trust between individuals and it’s the bedrock of collaboration. We can think of this as a bank account where our actions make both deposits and withdrawals. If we’re intentional about building trust with those around us and making constant deposits in the account, we have a store of capital to rely on when the inevitable mistakes and slip-ups occur.
  • Organizational trust. When our teammates trust each other and the organization, we behave in alignment with the values and mission of the company. This alignment reduces the friction imposed by the “trust tax,” turning it into a “trust dividend” that pays off with smooth communication, high collaboration, and speedy innovation.
  • Market trust. This is the organization’s reputation out in the world. With a team of people that trust each other and are aligned around the same mission and values, it’s much easier to develop a brand centered around reliability and excellence.
  • Societal trust. This is where we can point to the achievement of a higher purpose. The organization uses its reputation to create value in the community, and truly contribute to the betterment of the world around us.

The trust dividend. Enhancing trust starts internally; we each need to commit to the behaviors and attitudes that will allow others to have confidence in our abilities and intent. When that trust can radiate out to others, our firms will slowly see a decrease in the “trust tax” and can even convert that to a “dividend.”

High trust environments can lead to:

  • Increased value
  • Accelerated growth
  • Enhanced innovation
  • Improved collaboration
  • Stronger partnering
  • Better execution
  • Heightened loyalty

Become a trust catalyst: Start with yourself. The journey to a high-trust organization starts with each of us. Let’s commit to embodying the qualities we seek in others, extending trust as our default setting, and believing in the potential of our colleagues. As Stephen M. R. Covey eloquently says: “Somewhere along the way, most of us have had some kind of experience where someone believed in us and made an enormous difference in our lives. What’s most exciting is the realization that we can do the same for others! We can believe in them. We can extend trust to them. We can help them rise to the challenge, discover their unseen potential, and make enormous contributions that benefit us all.”

Let’s ditch the slow-motion saga and rewrite the story of our organizations. By doing so, we will build a world where trust is the driving force, propelling us toward a future of shared success and positive impact. 

Morgan Stinson is chief operating officer at EEA Consulting Engineers. Contact him at morganstinson@eeace.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.