Building the trust bank

Working with others – and getting the best from them – requires trust, which takes time to build. Understanding and modifying your behaviours can enable you to build greater trust more quickly with your team.

by Philippa Thomas 0 Team performance
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We know that high-performing teams are distinguished by a deep bond which goes way beyond just carrying out the work. But what is it that bonds them? The answer is of course trust, in each other and in the manager.

When thinking about building trust in relationships, it’s helpful to use the analogy of a trust bank, into which we make deposits and withdrawals through our behaviours and actions. When we make emotional ‘deposits’ into someone’s trust bank account, their confidence in is increased. And as a result, our relationship develops and grows. If we can keep a positive balance in our relationships by making regular deposits into the trust bank, there will be greater tolerance for any mistakes we inevitably make (no-one’s perfect!) and we’ll enjoy more honest communications with that person. On the flipside, when we make withdrawals and our balance becomes low or even overdrawn, animosity, mistrust and conflict develop.

Stephen Covey, in his seminal work ‘The Speed of Trust’, pinpointed the key management behaviours that can build or destroy trust in a working relationship. They fall into two main categories, each with two sub-categories:


  • Integrity – comes from the right place
  • Intent – cares about my wellbeing


  • Capabilities – can do the job
  • Results – good track record

But unfortunately, a manager can’t just rely on his/her character and competence. A manager has to actively and consciously create opportunities for fostering trust in his/her team, through his/her behaviour and actions. Covey also identified six ways of making deposits in the trust bank, with the supporting actions that a manager can take. We have summarised these below.

Understand the individual

  • Show empathy – “I understand”.
  • Schedule regular 1:1 conversations.
  • Use active listening techniques.
  • Make time for face-time.

Keep commitments

  • Do what you say you will do.
  • Keep your appointments.
  • Be on time for calls and meetings.
  • Acknowledge and respond to e-mails.

Clarify expectations

  • Make no assumptions, people can’t be mind-readers.
  • Discuss, then confirm understanding.
  • Follow up in writing.
  • Check understanding again.

Attend to the little things

  • Make the effort to communicate each day.
  • Try a “how’s your day going?” call or “I saw this and thought of you” e-mail.
  • Say “thank you”. Often.
  • Be generous with your praise.
  • Remember birthdays. It’s what e-cards were invented for.

Show personal integrity

  • Don’t say one thing then do the opposite.
  • Be open and courageous when discussing issues.
  • Be respectful. Always.
  • Don’t bad-mouth those who are absent.
  • Be seen to do the right thing.

Apologise sincerely for withdrawals

  • Accept we all make mistakes.
  • When they occur, admit to them.
  • If appropriate, offer sincere apologies.
  • Make things right again.

If you would like to build better trust in your team, your starting point should be to check how you currently perform against each of these behaviours and actions. What could you do better or more of? Don’t forget to ask your team what they think!

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