Nothing is a catalyst for success like a culture of trust. It’s plain and simple, trust is more important than, well anything – and this is especially true for entrepreneurs.

8 Ways to Build a Culture of Trust

Let’s face it, how can you make a success out of a startup or fledgling business venture if you do not trust the people you are working with, or who work for you? It’s simple. You can’t.

The real effects of trust are felt in its absence. So many problems and issues crop up. And the explanation for that is also quite simple. Like it or not, as human beings we are all largely driven by our emotions. Heart tends to win the battle against head more often than not.

Our gut usually tells us when we can’t trust the person opposite us, or when we ourselves are not being trusted. And when this happens, it can be the leading driver which negatively affects the way we work, our decision-making, and the actual work itself.

Do you trust me?

The power of a culture of trust

In my professional life, wherever I have worked, there’s always been one thing which has motivated me. Trust. From an employee/partner perspective, there’s nothing quite like the feeling when a manager or CEO shows faith in you by trusting your judgement. Or when he/she listens to your advice and recommendations, and gives you the power (and motivation) to get things done.

This is what two-way trust is all about. When you trust and feel trusted, let’s face it, everything just works better. If you’re wondering, “Yeah okay, but how do I instill this kind of trust culture into my startup or business environment?”, try some of these tactics:

Formally add trust to your agenda

The easiest way to fall into the lack of trust trap is to not talk about it. Too many businesses make the mistake of leaving it to interpretation, and this cultivates a culture of fear. In other words, people may not want to speak up for fear of telling the truth about the business’ culture. Be open, be transparent. Actually find ways to request constructive criticisms from your partners and/or employees. This could be a Typeform survey or a informal Q&A/group therapy stand-up meeting session. If you’re leading the business, obviously you will have to start. Talk about what you feel your personal weaknesses are, what problems you see and how you wan to “fix” them.

Stay true to your word

Your word is your bond. And that is the way you should operate. Daily. By far the easiest way to build trust with anyone is to get into the [very good] habit of keeping your word. For example, if you say you are going to have something done by a certain date, do it. If you promise that you will review something over the weekend, do it. Remember, we as people are sensitive creatures. We hate being disappointed by a broken promise, however small. Break your word and you will be remembered as “that person”. And your business will become, “that business”.

No blame no shame

This is a tough one. Similar to the way in order to cultivate a positive cooperation in a team by banning the phrase “it’s not my job”, what I want to say here is along the same lines. It surprises me still that in 2018 there are a lot of startups and companies operating with this philosophy. It’s something mainly that comes from the so-called careerists out there. You need to step back from the habit of naming and blaming partners and/or employees for errors.

Instead of asking of stating who did what wrong. Ask or state, “Okay this happened and it had x effect. What can we learn from this opportunity?” In this way, you are tracking triumphs versus mistakes. How many good employees would want to work in this kind of environment? It’s a no-brainer. As an old Japanese saying goes, “Even monkeys fall from trees” (meaning even experts make mistakes), everyone can make a mistake. Nobody should be scared of making one. Your motto should be “fail fast and learn”.

Pay attention to who is in front of you

There’s a cool piece of art hanging in a gallery in Switzerland. It’s by American artist Jill Magid, and it’s called “Security Measures: Pay Attention to Who is Directly in Front of You.” Incidently I “stole” it for my LinkedIn cover. But anyway, the message is important. One which so many of us in this age of wonderful mobility tend to forget. Meetings, as well as lunch conversations, are spent scrolling on our phones half-listening. That right there is enough in itself to stimulate indifference and a lack of trust. So when you are speaking with anyone, always be sure to make eye contact. And pay full – and I mean full – attention to them when they are speaking to you, or attempting to explain/show something to you. It works wonders.

Know what you’re talking about

Okay this one’s for the CEO’s and leaders out there. Know your stuff, and be the example. I know this is easier to say than do, but like many things in business, direction comes from the top-down. And this works in the same way for building a culture of trust. Everybody is looking to you for guidance, as well as inspiration. Your team members and employees will trust you because of three things: your knowledge, experience, and your personality.

Knowledge is power, but it’s also a trust enabler. When you are giving presentations, giving feedback or talking about subjects, make sure you have done your homework. If you turn up and start skirting around topics it shows that you have not really checked or read up about it and people will question your judgment.

Strive to be see-through

For me, transparency is the ultimate trust-builder. I have worked in companies where hierarchies, financial results, ways of working and much more were withheld from certain members of a team. This breeds a lack of trust like wildfire. So try to be as transparent as possible. Transparency is usually achieved by over-communicating. Spill all the beans so everyone has the picture of everything and then if something goes awry, then nobody will question you or lay the blame at your door. As with most things, communication is the lynchpin.

The fifth way to build trust in your culture is to value your employees as people more than you value them as production units. You get to show how much you value your employees every day, in a thousand ways. When you make human decisions instead of mechanical ones based only on dollars and cents or “operational efficiency,” people notice.

Know it’s okay to say I don’t know

Do you know everything? No. So don’t act like you do. Or try to give the impression that you do by using clever arguments or wordplay. As a leader especially, if you do this, then don’t expect anything less than your team to do the same. When you don’t know about something, own up and admit it. Stress that there’s no shame in that.

It’s always better to say “Sorry but I’m really not sure about that, so instead of giving you a half-baked answer, let me get back to you on it,” versus giving a half-baked answer which leaves the other person wondering. In our ever-specialized roles, more often than not, people understand that it is simply not possible to have all-encompassing knowledge. Encourage that this is a good thing as at helps team members collaborate and learn from each other. That’s a step forward, towards a venerable culture of trust.

People first, professionals second

I want to finish on this one because it’s of fundamental importance towards a culture of trust. The world of entrepreneurship is full of countless KPIs, metrics, business models and performance monitoring. But above all, one thing you always need to remember is this. Value your partners, team and employees first as human beings, second as “productivity units”. There are so many ways to do this. At Starttech for example, there’s an open library policy, free language classes, and yoga sessions, as well as nutrition and fitness consulting – and a running club. Informal Q&A’s with company leaders and partners, as well as regular get together outside of work all help to cultivate this Holy Grail that is a culture of trust.

To recap…

As you can see there are many different ways to build a culture of trust within your business. The key to getting there quicker boils down to leaders and managers making good on their word – and putting their trust into their people.

As I said in the beginning, there’s no better motivator than feeling you have the trust, and can trust the people you are working for or with. So start doing it today!


Graham Wood Graham Wood

The Starttech Ventures Storyteller. Studied Journalism with Business at the University of Central Lancashire. Has worked in various product marketing management positions for the likes of Nokia, Samsung and Vodafone, as well as in several journalism and media roles since 2000.