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Top Banana managing director Nick Terry explores the role of trust and fully engaged managers in effective workplace collaboration.

What part does trust play in good collaboration?

Organisations need their people to collaborate internally, and sometimes with outside bodies, in order to succeed. It’s important to drive efficiencies and innovation. And millions of pounds are being spent on acquiring the latest digital and online collaborative tools. But, still, you’d be hard-pressed to find an organisation that claims to get it right. All the time.

What part does good, old-fashioned ‘trust’ play in our willingness and ability to collaborate for the good of our employers?

Will you catch me?

We’ve all seen videos, or taken part in the workshops, where to show trust in colleagues, one hapless individual is expected to fall back into a pair of outstretched arms. This activity was so prevalent at one time that that it became a bit of a cliché for management development workshops.

But back in the workplace would an employee’s gut instinct be to trust their line manager or chief executive if their staged fall was a real business crisis? Would he or she have the right skills, the integrity, the benevolence to ensure you or the business didn’t ‘fall’? Could staff predict their leaders’ actions in a given situation?

To be willing to share – information, time, resources, aspirations and emotions – one must trust the other participants ‘in the room’. Without trust in an organisation, silos develop, armour and fences go up and profits go down. It’s inevitable.

For solid, rock steady trust to exist, we’ve shown there needs to be four elements, or pillars, in place:

  • Ability: knowledge, skills and professionalism
  • Benevolence: showing interest, recognising individual needs, being approachable
  • Integrity: organisational values and ethical behaviour
  • Predictability: acting consistently, walking the walk

If just one of these fabulous four pillars has gone AWOL: ‘Houston. We have a problem.’

When one pillar collapses

One of my early jobs in this wonderful industry we call Comms was the relaunch of a mattress that inhibited and healed bed sores. Oh, the glamour!

The chief exec wanted an elaborate and show stopping, theatrical display complete with bells, whistles and chutzpah! I sent out an ‘all hands on deck’ call internally. But slow progress was made by the marketing department and I couldn’t get the sense of urgency and creativity I was looking for.

I asked around and it turned out that the marketing team was held in low esteem in other departments. The sales team had long since given up collaborating, and now wrote their own marketing materials. They weren’t credible; they lacked the right skills, knowledge and professionalism to gain trust of their peers. The vital ‘ability’ pillar was missing from the entire marketing team. To get anything done, I needed to bypass them.

In a similar example, but focused on trust of the individual, I heard a pollster being interviewed after the recent general election. He was discussing the now famous opinion poll that didn’t accurately predict the results. He used as an example, the general election in 1992. While polls showed the nation desired a charismatic, benevolent Prime Minister who showed integrity, they also wanted one they believed had the right technical skills for the job. Minds overruled hearts and the nations chose the leader they felt had the ability and Conservative leader John Major won over Labour’s Neil Kinnock.

Crucial link in the trust chain

Trust is also transitive. It needs to connect through a chain of command in hierarchies and through a network of peer groups. Simply put, for A and C to trust each other, they both must trust B. For chief executives to successfully persuade, influence and lead staff at the coal face, the crucial link is the line manager.

In most organisations now, middle and junior management – or aspiring managers - are probably Millennials. Also known as Generation Y, Millennials are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when this generation starts and ends. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. Infact, dear reader, if you are aged under 35 years, you are a Millennial yourself.

Millennials are mostly natural collaborators. They expect to have their opinions canvassed, their input valued and their help elicited in the workplace. Millennials are characterised as wanting to be included and to feel a sense of purpose in the organisation they work for. It’s also important to them to help shape an organisation’s future.

So, collaboration for this significant generation is a given.

Outstanding results built on collaboration and trust

In a very successful project we ran for a construction industry client, ‘Millennial Managers’ were just the group we wanted and needed to engage.

The client had a target to save £8m to avoid the need for further redundancies. We recruited 80 junior managers to each become project heads over individual aspects of this overall cost saving programme. They had a clear brief but autonomy to deliver and the ability to give feedback upwards to shape the scope and direction of the overall programme.

The enthusiasm these 80 young managers had as a result of being asked to collaborate on this important but, honestly, quite dull topic, meant that they threw themselves into it with gusto. Their quality of leadership shone through and their multi-generational teams entered into the programme with a spirit that may not have been present if it had simply been a directive from on high. The outcome, celebrated by all, was that the target of £8m was smashed and the organisation recouped £30m in net contribution to the bottom line. An outstanding result due wholly to collaboration and trust.

People join organisations but leave managers

Engaging this large and growing band in the workforce is vital to the future success of organisations. Senior management needs to invest time in coaching, mentoring and stretching Millennial Managers to earn their trust and reap the rewards of their desire to collaborate.

If leaders base their actions on the four pillars of trust, then set out their stall and give direction with honesty and transparency, trust will build and an environment of collaboration will follow. As the McLeod Report says, leaders must have a strong ‘strategic narrative’ to engage managers; to be able to articulate a clear, shared vision, so individuals understand the purpose of the organisation they work for and how their individual role contributes.

People join organisations but they leave managers – employees need managers who are engaged and committed in order to foster trust and engagement. The perfect conditions for collaboration to thrive.

The report Leadership, Trust and Communication: Building Trust in Companies through Effective Leadership Communication is available for download from www.top-b.com/trustinleadership. IoIC members can download the report via the Research page of this website or by clicking the trust report download page (remember to log in first).

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