Building a Culture of Trust

I recently listened to a Ted Talks presentation by Frances Frei, a Harvard Business School Professor, specialising in Business Culture. The theme of the presentation was around "Trust" as the central core of an organisation's culture and what must be present for trust to exist.

Frances outlined "3 pillars" on which trust sits:

  • Empathy
  • Logic
  • Authenticity

Initially, the concept was pictured as a triangle, each point supporting the other, but I see it more as a complete circle, demonstrating the requirement of a consistency of behaviour that will provide a culture of trust, ongoing.


In simple terms, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person/s. Affinity, rapport, sympathy and sensitivity towards others is also examples of empathy. The greatest danger for empathy is distraction. Any level of distraction will cause a lack of empathy within an organisation, often justified with the common claim of just being too busy.

Frances spent time with Uber in the USA working with them on establishing a sustainable culture against a back drop of incredible growth. Frances described all 3 pillars as being incredibly "wobbly" when she arrived. In terms of empathy, all team members would take their mobiles into meetings. They would text each other while in the meetings, about the meetings - distraction city. Mobile phones were banned from meetings, which forced each person to be fully engaged in each meeting and improved the level of trust within the teams.


Logic can break down in either of two ways in the eyes of a team:

1. The quality of the logic. Is there real rigour in the thinking? Do the decisions made by the manager, or the management team follow a "logical" pattern, or do they change frequently, confusing most members of the team as to what is the real objective? In my previous working life, I was the Queensland Manager of a large transport organisation. For 3 consecutive years our Group Executive came to the collective group of State Managers with a different restructuring plan that we were asked to execute. Each time we were asked to go to our staff and clients, communicate the changes and ask for their patience. My uncomfortable question to the Group Executive was how do we expect our staff and clients to trust that we know what we are doing when the plan changes each year. I left the organisation before the 4th restructuring plan was presented;

2. Are decisions or plans communicated effectively? Outlining the objective initially and then providing clear evidence-based steps towards achieving the outcome will assist in creating a trusting work environment. A major part in this component, I believe, is story telling. Over the last 2 years, I have taken our team and business through a significant transformation. Story telling has been a major component in having our team buy into the process, as I communicated a clear vision of our future and the path we would follow along the way.



Too often, people hold back their real thoughts for fear of retribution. Creating a working environment where all team members are comfortable in bringing their true-self to work requires consistency of behaviour by each respective leader within an organisation. The spoken words and the actions need to be aligned in all situations. I'm sure we have all come across organisations and managers who roll out the old saying "there is no such thing as a bad idea". More often than not, the actions of these managers fail to support the statement and members of their team withhold their true-self - no trust there I'm afraid.


So, there you go, Empathy + Logic + Authenticity = Trust. It seems so easy when you express it as a simple mathematics calculation. Why not take the time to have a chat with different members of your team - the true test in how your business measures up as an organisation with a trusting culture, will be in what they have to say - or what they don't?

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