Trust is the key to everything.

Few things are more important to creativity, teamwork, and leadership than trust. Yet trust is one of the rarest and most misunderstood things on most teams and in most companies. In this episode, we will look at the different types of trust, understand where trust is important, look at how to assess the various aspects of trust, understand human-centered transformation, and some of the best ways to build trust.

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Over the past year and a half, I have been able to work with so many different teams and people all over the world who span all levels of design maturity. That has given me a broad perspective about what works and what doesn’t but it also lets you see some pretty common patterns that emerge. That has been one of the most fascinating things as I am working with companies on 5 continents, who all come from different cultures, may speak different languages and more yet their struggles are the same. This has been why I have focused on things like cognitive bias and other things that I think are the foundation of these problems. But I think it also comes down to something smaller and simpler than that – trust.

Trust is what defines great teams, great leaders and great companies but it is in painfully short supply. Trust is not a matter of technique, but of character; people are trusted because of their way of being, not because of their polished exteriors or expertly crafted communications which are often what is valued in corporate cultures.

You build and maintain trusting relationships and a culture of trust in your workplace one step at a time through every action you take and every interaction you have. Trust can be hard to define and may be fragile, but it has the capacity to grow strong over time. In this episode, we will look at the different types of trust, understand where trust is important, look at how to assess trust, understand human-centered transformation and some of the best ways to build trust.

Types of trust

As usual, let’s start with the basics which are that there are two types of trust.

Practical trust

Practical trust can be earned by being a great worker who does the basics like meet their commitments, show up on time, and do what you say you’ll do.

You build trust because people rely on your competence and dependability. They trust you to get the job done.

Even if you don’t like someone you need to have practical trust in them to be able to be productive. This type of trust is foundational. If you don’t have it, you and your team are going to have big problems. It is not a mystery that most struggles come out of the fact that most companies seem to struggle to get different teams to even get to practical respect.

But the real problem is that practical trust is all that most companies think or care about. They do it because practical trust is more straight forward and easier to understand. But practical trust alone will never yield great work.

Emotional trust

Emotional trust is the next level when practical and foundational becomes transformational.

This type of trust is when people trust that you’re on their side. They know you’ll treat them with two of the most important things – honesty and respect. You won’t judge them for their setbacks, and they’re comfortable telling you their honest thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

This type of trust is, obviously, far more complex. It goes beyond hard work and respecting other people’s time; it requires a certain level of emotional intelligence.

The lack of understanding, valuing and even respecting emotional trust is the root of almost every team I work with who are struggling.

Take some time and think about the main people you work with. Do you have practical or emotional trust with them? The chances are that is that list is more practical than emotional then your team is struggling.

Where is trust important?

Emotional trust is critical in three areas of your work – as an individual, on your team, and in your company.

ON AN INDIVIDUAL LEVEL trust is important when it comes to:

To put your best ideas out there you need to trust and know yourself. I have done a ton of episodes around this for a reason. You have to get to a place where you can trust your process, insights, and ability to push through problems.

ON A TEAM LEVEL trust is important when it comes to:

Building trust starts at the very beginning.
Why did you turn down a job in the past? Didn’t trust the company or leadership?

As a creative, you have to know that you can take a risk and trust that your leadership will help you work through it. Our work is so personal that if we do not trust our leaders then we get frustrated, our work shrinks and we never do anything unique or original.

Emotional trust is critical if you are going to stay with a team for any amount of time. Most of the time when people quit it is because they no longer have any emotional trust with their team or boss.

ON A COMPANY LEVEL trust is important when it comes to:

Erosion of trust in companies has led to large trends like the gig economy where people no longer see themselves as long term employees at any company.

Trust is the foundation of why many executives and traditional leaders struggle to lead creative people since their leadership style is based on practical and not emotional trust.

As we have seen the rise of agile methodologies, design thinking, design sprints, etc – we have seen them fall just as quickly because to be successful they all require that company executives and leaders trust the people doing the work. Working this way and trusting the people they hire is a foreign concept at far too many companies.

4 parts of trust

As I have thought about this and done research I think there are 4 main parts to trust you need to build and maintain.

Credibility (trusting what someone says)
Often spoiled by personal agendas and politics

Reliability (trusting what someone does)

Intimacy (entrusting someone with something important)

Self-Orientation (self-awareness and focus, whether your focus is primarily on yourself or others).

What is human-centered transformation?

We have laid out the basics but I think this is far more important than most people realize. I didn’t want to do an episode on trust for no reason – there are real business benefits to making this an important focus. But I think that too many of us approach creativity, innovation, and business transformation the wrong way which is why so much of it fails.

Most companies I see try to do work based transformation which means that they think if they are able to produce more work, refine their process or project velocity then the overall work will get better, their culture will improve and they will become more innovative. In my experience, this is completely backward.

You probably have heard me use the phrase ‘the work is the truth’ on this show and I do it for a very good reason. The work you and your team produces is a direct representation of how much trust there is in your process, your team and your company. The less trust there is the more a company will ‘ship the org’ as a leader don’t trust their teams so they hand down the work they want to be done only to then endlessly spin about why they can’t create anything that actually makes a real difference to the business.

As a part of this journey, I have also stepped back to look at my own process and realized just how different to seems to be and why it seemed to make so many people in leadership uncomfortable. For me, trust was the most important thing in the work we did so I always approached transformation from a human perspective instead of work-based. I have always believed that if the culture is right if people are invested, and if they feel like they can trust everyone around them the great work will follow – and so far I have been right. The problem is human-centered innovation is much harder, takes more investment and all the things that you have to do to build trust.

Great teams understand that the real currency that will transform the work and the company is honesty, respect, and courage.

Knowing that people will always tell you the truth but do it with compassionate candor. You know that they are pushing you so everything gets better and are not doing it for their own goals or agenda.

You know that your teammates and other teams respect your work, ideas, and contributions. I have talked before about the problems that come with teams who battle over who is right. Lack of respect is the root of those battles.

It asks that people step up to make a difference. That those people know it is not just up to the company to legislate process that will bring about change. But it is about how they show up and work every day, how they push each other, and what courageous steps they will take to make it happen.

Where do you start?

Instead of investing only in practical trust you ca create human-centered transformation through emotional trust. But it requires that you do some things differently and some of those things are much harder which is why few do them.

Where do you start?

People matter
Take time in how you hire
Hire smart people and let them do their job
Invest in your people through a scalable coaching culture
Promote from within
Use pervasive communication and set standards for how everyone should use each type of communication.

How should you work?

Freedom in a framework
More nuanced leadership giving insights and problems instead of answers – episode on 10/80/10 rule
You have a methodology to define how you create, a agile process to keep it all moving, and standards/systems to keep it all looking aligned.
Cultivate mutual respect among all teams. Start with practical respect through things like accountability, quotable north star, tools, metrics and maybe even a shared meal.
Transparent environments

How to build trust

These themes have cut across a lot of episodes but I think emotional trust is built out of a few important actions:

Be honest
We’ve spoken about this on previous shows but I continue to believe that even if it is hard to hear, in the end, people will respect honestly.
You do have to make sure that emotion, interpretation, politics and personal agendas are not a part of this as that is not honest.
This often comes to life in two critical areas when it comes to being creative.

• Admit when you don’t know something
• Admit when you’re wrong

Be transparent
Deep trust comes from knowing what people are thinking so it means you need to be transparent about those problems.
Here again, this comes to life in a few key ways.

• Explain your thought process
• Invite feedback and pay attention to it

Be connected
You have to be connected to other people and your teams and there really isn’t any way to fake this.
People know if you are invested and paying attention.

• Take the time to build connections with other people
• Get in the trenches (with rules)
• Let everyone see and contribute to the big picture
• Create guilds to share work and learnings down through disciplines and across the team.

Be consistent
For leaders, you HAVE to be honest, transparent and connected but you also have to be consistent.

• You don’t get the benefit of bad days if you want to keep trust
• You have to have a consistent style, approach ad tone

Final thought

There is no escaping the need for trust. If you or your company ever want to do anything but just talk about change and doing better work then you have to work on this.

You also can not start to build trust by going to looking for who to blame that it does not exist – the problem is on everyone. Also once you have it trust is one of the most fragile things because you constantly have to work on it, maintain it and grow it as you evolve, the team grows, your company changes, leadership changes and so much more.

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