4 Ways of Creating an Environment Based on Honesty and Trust

As leaders, we often talk about trust in teams but how much do we actually influence how trust building in the workplace? Is it something that you talk about but don’t proactively do anything of note to effect? Is it just expected that your team is open and honest and if they’re not it’s them that are the problem?

We have so much influence in how a team of people functions. The more so I learn each month in management and leadership. We can create environments, create a culture, mentor and coach individuals and seriously impact the pace of the building of trust. We can create inclusive work environment and positive cultures.

A 2017 HBR survey concluded that :

‘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’ – Wow!

But the reality is there is a huge gap between employee expectations against actual. A study conducted by Edelman concluded that employers fall behind at almost all aspects of trusting environment against expectations.

2022 Special Report: Trust in the Workplace | Edelman

So what do we do?


When building teams, honesty is a trait that is often overlooked, a soft skill that you cannot see on a cv or assertion from an interview process. Yes, you can probe on answers and someone may crumble but this doesn’t always mean that they are untrustworthy. It could mean they are nervous and say the wrong things. Trust is something which is earned in a relationship over numerous interactions.

It’s not always easy to find people who are honest and trustworthy, many of us will cherry pick colleagues from previous work experience to come work with us or promote team members into higher positions, all based around the trust in the relationship. 

Simon Sinek, author of ‘Start with why’ explains in a great short the importance of trust when selecting members of the SAS. In the short 2 minute video he explains why you should choose trust over high performers.

There will be times when we have to take a punt on someone who we get a good vibe from and often in these situations I would advise to trust your ‘gut instincts’ or those feelings we get when our limbic brain is in action. 

What’s important is that they are a cultural fit within the values of your team. 

What does this mean?

Well, do you value team work or having someone who is able to work solely and get the job done?

Do you want someone who is more money saving focused or people focused?

Do you value people in your team that are more experienced or more of a will to learn?

When interviewing, do they talk about teamwork over their skill level? Do their answers convey a passion for people over profit? Do they come across as having a mindset to learn? How do these answers fit within your team culture? If you can match someone to a teams cultural fit then you’re already winning.

Lead from the front

‘Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom’ – Thomas Jefferson 

Now we all know the story from childhood of the boy who cried ‘wolf’. It’s at the very basic level of honesty and trust but it’s so true. Once you lost that trust you’re open to disaster.

Think of how you view some of your heroes that inspire you, whether it’s a sportsperson, celebrity or leader. Think  about how they are honest.

Being an avid football and tennis fan there are a couple of moments which have had particular effect on me and brought about huge admire and respect.

In the 2001 premier league match up against West Ham and Aston Villa, goalkeeper Paul Gerrard had left an open goal for controversial character Paulo Di Canio while getting injured rushing out for a challenge. Di Canio’s teammates played on, crossed the ball towards him into the box and with an almost open goal to volley into, Di Canio brought the play to a stop by catching the ball and halting play so his opponent could receive treatment. An act of sportsmanship and integrity that won him the fair play award.

In 2005, world number 1, Andy Roddick was on match point, already 1 set to love up, When the umpire called a second serve of Fernando Verdasco out winning Andy Roddick the match. As the 2 players were approaching the net to shake hands, Roddick noticed on the clay court that the ball was actually in and called the umpire to concede the point. The game went on and Roddick ended up losing but the show of honesty had the world in admiration.

People will follow leaders that they trust. You shouldn’t give your team a chance to question your integrity. How? Be honest yourself.

It’s sounds easy but it’s not always when you are managing a team of people that you want to look to you for answers or a be a beacon of inspiration. 

Don’t beat around the bush, give honest and open feedback. Answer questions sincerely and don’t lie. If you don’t know, let people know you don’t know. Chances are you will know where to find the information. It’s impossible to know every detail so don’t be afraid of admitting you don’t know.

Admit it when you may mistakes. To your team or your direct manager. EVERYONE makes mistakes, it’s how we learn and become experienced. Tell your subordinates about times you’ve messed up, this makes a much more comfortable environment for your team to talk about their mistakes and how they learned from them.

All of these things will set an example, it will create a culture of honesty and integrity because they are actively watching you do it.

Show trust to your team

There are many different leadership styles. From a dictatorial telling people what to do – ‘I’m not telling you why but I want you to do this’ to an abdicate – ‘this responsibility is yours to manage now please let me know if you need any support’

Those are opposite ends of the spectrum, see Tannenbaum and Schmidt model however the more trust you have in a relationship the more you will tend to delegate or abdicate. This gives your team members a really strong indication that you trust them. They will want to hold onto that which will reciprocate that trust.

A supervisor of mine would often partly fabricate their answers when pressed and you could tell in their face. But they wanted so much to impress and not make a mistake that this brought on dishonest answers. I found that giving them clear advice, that failure leads to success, is what every human will go through and we shouldn’t be ashamed of mistakes or not knowing an answer. After which, they had a responsibility delegated and once they had that trust they didn’t want to let it go, so they came to me for support and let me know when they had made a mistake. They loved that feeling of being trusted and gave them a sense of importance. Now I’m not saying everyone is like this but the turn around was miraculous.

Involve Everyone 

Showing that you trust the team, not just individuals, will allow for that environment of belonging. That feeling that we get when we truly feel a part of something, a connection with our colleagues or friends, a feeling that we are meaningfully making an impact, that we are a part of something and that we belong there. 

You’ll have your favourites, the ones who you may trust a bit more than the others but it’s always surprising to see the capabilities of a team when you can trust the unit not the individual. Teams will work together when trusted together, results will be better, culture will be better, working standards will be better.

Each team has their own dynamic, it’s important that you know how individuals of your team tick, what motivates them and drives them. A honey and Mumford style questionnaire to understands individuals is a great way of understanding what their learning styles are. This will allow you to manage what’s important to your team to build trust.

By creating a psychologically safe environment, one where people are not afraid to say they don’t understand. They don’t have the fear that by admitting that something bad won’t happen to them. Will allow for more open discussion, it will help solve problems much quicker than if teams were to go away not understanding what has been requested of them.

Another member of my team was particularly frustrated at being overlooked when it came to completing tasks that were probably seen as a bit more important than the day to day responsibilities of the norm. This overlooking made them feel insecure, frustrated and as a result, not performing to their best level.

It wasn’t that they were given any special attention but we ensured that the team received more of an equal responsibility. A reciprocated trust that these tasks would be completed of the same quality. It wasn’t the case of being fair but what transpired was that team member was much happier, performed better and the trusting relationship between the full team increased significantly. They listened to advice and put in so much more effort to start completing tasks to higher level of quality.

Creating an environment of honesty and trust is something that must be a foundation of any team. A starting point on which to build from. Be mindful when hiring, ask the right questions, understand how they fit into your current teams culture and whether they will buy into your vision. Lead from the front, be honest about your mistakes and show your team that you are willing to learn from experience. Trust your team, let them make their mistakes, this will not only create a trusting relationship but it will also develop them to be more effective. Make sure that you involve everyone, understand that you need to trust the team as a whole and you are willing to do this. It will create a unity and togetherness that will bring everyone together. Trust takes time and again, I will say with most of things I blog about, it’s like a muscle you train but train it in the right way will fast track progression.


2 responses to “4 Ways of Creating an Environment Based on Honesty and Trust”

  1. A well written piece and easy to read, I look forward to further contributions Dan


    1. Thanks for the feedback Ian 😀


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