High-trust teams are high-performance teams

Written by Jessica Stillman Thursday 25 November 2021
Comprehensive studies support anecdotal evidence on the link between trust – a key component of the ChMC framework – and performance
_GettyImages-1325899588 (1)

For advice on managing with trust, one person particularly well-qualified to help is Fry CEO Zahid Malik. As we explored in a recent CMI Magazine article, Malik takes trusting employees to extremes. Under his self-management system, his company’s 40 employees decide when and where to work and what projects to prioritise with only the most minimal coordination from managers.

“On the whole, we find that trusting people works really well,” Malik told CMI. “Give people that space and they will absolutely rise to the occasion. You're just going to get better from people if you start adopting more of these ways of working.” Research shows not only that he is right about the relationship between trust and performance, but also suggests ways consultants can adapt his principals to their own work.

Measuring the impact of trust

Hearsay and anecdotal evidence are good indicators, but is it possible to pin down exactly how much trust does impact professional performance? For more than a decade Claremont Graduate University professor Paul J. Zak has researched this question, drawing blood from study subjects to investigate the biological underpinnings of trust and surveying workers at thousands of organisations.

The results of this work are synthesised in his book Trust Factor, but Zak summed up the basic takeaway in the Harvard Business Review: “Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.”

In short, Malik is right. Trust does bring out the best in people in ways that are both measurable and profound.

Transparency for consultants

At Fry, ‘high trust’ means allowing employees access to the company’s financials and empowering them to make their own decisions about holiday time and business expenses. The decisions to adopt such policies are generally not in the hands of consultants, but that doesn’t mean that consultants shouldn’t concentrate on building high-trust relationships. Several research-backed trust-building techniques not only overlap with those practised at Fry, but are also adaptable to project-based work.

Sharing information openly, from customer feedback to salary information, is a central pillar of Fry’s culture. It’s also recommended by Zak who states that ”a study of 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries found that workforce engagement improved when supervisors had some form of daily communication with direct reports.” The more frequent and open your communications about your thinking, roadmap, and concerns, the more trust you’re likely to build.

Trust isn’t just about information though. It’s also about personal relationships. “Trust is in part based on the extent to which a leader is able to create positive relationships with other people and groups,” claim Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of consultancy Zenger/Folkman, which studied assessments of 87,000 leaders in order to determine the key building blocks of trust. This research confirmed that open communication is an essential ingredient for establishing trust, but the findings indicate that showing interest in the lives of colleagues, working cooperatively, and offering honest feedback is even more important.

While building positive relationships was the most important element, the Zenger/Folkman research found that showing good judgement and consistency are two other essential ingredients for building high-trust relationships. Leaders who want to foster trust must do what they say they will, honour their commitments, and ensure their actions match their words.

Transparency, consistency, and a human touch aren’t context specific. Whether you’re leading a short-term project or building a business over the long term, leaders can strive to cultivate these components of a high-trust, high-performance workplace.

More information on inspiring trust within the context of the competency framework.

And here’s CMI’s brand new research into the key skills that employers are looking for among modern graduates.

Chartered Management Consultant

This award sets and maintains the highest standards for the management consulting profession.

Find out more

Don’t miss out - get notified of new content

Sign-up to become a Friend of CMI to recieve our free newsletter for a regular round-up of our latest insight and guidance.

CMI members always see more. For the widest selection of content, including CPD tools and multimedia resources, check out how to get involved with CMI membership.