What’s trust got to do with it?

When organisations are seeking the right recipe for forwarding momentum, the conversations need to courageously step into the ‘unsaid’. As we delve into what might be stopping us, the brake on momentum often comes down to a lack of trust. Whether it is the processes not being quite right, the product not meeting customer needs, the strategy missing the target, the team not collaborating well, underneath all that, the thing keeping us in a holding pattern is a lack of trust.

Often, it’s a lack of trust in the leadership. A feeling of ‘us’ and ‘them’; of hidden agendas and a general unsafe feeling; of not wanting to open our mouths in case it gets used against us; of others taking the credit for hard work we’ve done, or great ideas we’ve had; of seeing leaders sabotage each other to get ahead. Just as frequently, it’s also about a lack of trust in each other.

Without the right environment and connection, we keep a distance from one another. We lose our authenticity. And when we lose our authenticity, we lose trust. People are distrustful of superficial, artificial relationships. But we’ve become accustomed to that being the way of the world in the workplace. So, we put up a front – what psychology calls “impression management” – and it’s making us more unhappy and demotivated than ever before.  It is also exhausting.

Trust Activates Better Thinking

The latest research on the brain shows clearly that when we feel trust, chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin rise in the different regions of our brain. Oxytocin looks to play a big part in social bonding and empathy. When this neurochemistry in the brain is activated, it seems that the prefrontal cortex works far more effectively. The prefrontal cortex is the executive function of the brain. When we’re operating in this part of the brain and in this trusting state, we’re able to problem-solve, collaborate, have empathy and think rationally. It’s where we access our higher-order thinking. When we are in a fear state, we shut down our thinking and move to a survival mode instead.

Therefore, when we trust, we work better. When we are confident, we’re able to dig deep into how to solve the problems that are facing us. When we distrust, on the other hand, we retreat from this part of our brain and are driven far more by the limbic brain, the emotional seat of our brain. Threat and fear rise, and we find it far harder to work to our full potential. Trust is a critical element to enable us to fulfil our potential.

Paul Zak, the founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and the author of, Trust Factor: The science of creating high- performance companies, 2017, has done a significant amount of research over decades on the difference between low-trust and high-trust companies. He and his colleagues use neuroscience as a base of this investigation. They have some surprising findings, as reported in Harvard Business Review, ‘The Neuroscience of Trust’, January 2017.

Paul Zak’s findings show:

74% less stress

14% less burnout

13% less sick days

76% more engagement

29% more satisfaction with their lives

106% more energy

50% higher productivity in high-trust companies compared to low-trust companies.

This is a game changer for us. Through neuroscience research, we can see that connection between people, and the trust we build between people is a critical element of success.

What this science helps us to understand is that here lies our focus. It’s no longer any use to look solely to strategy, or task to make a change. We must focus on how our people connect, both to what they are doing (their day to day tasks) and to each other.

The Three Key Elements in The Glue of Trust

Focus on these three things to build trust in your organisation or team:

Connection – Purpose; People; The Work

Connect people strongly to purpose – why are we doing this? What is our driving ‘north’? Do we see it the same way as each other? Seek to connect people together – when we see each other as humans rather than simply ‘doers’ we deepen our understanding. Collaborate on the work and smash those silos.

Compassion – See; Value; Have Empathy

See and value each other.  Strengths; diversity; thinking. Have empathy. One of my favourite quotes is a wonderful tenet for teams to live by: Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about: Be Kind Always. That doesn’t mean having high expectations – it’s about giving the psychological safety and belonging for people to get there.


If you’re clued into trust in teams, you can easily hear the trust in people’s conversations.  Is there ease of discussion about challenges facing the team? Are people willing to be open and vulnerable with each other? Are curious questions and wondering the mainstay of problem-solving? Or blame and judgement? Is there a guardedness in the group that distinctly shows a lack of trust between people? The research in trusting conversations gives clear indicators of the type of behaviours in our language that build trust. The most important? Drop the need to be right and instead be open to influence.

You deserve to work in an environment of trust. And, when you can bring those three elements together, you will have a bond with your team, a thorough understanding of each other and, most importantly, a sense of shared, collective purpose.

That’s what builds trust – and that’s what builds high performance.


Tracey Ezard

Tracey Ezard is a Melbourne-based consultant that focuses on leadership and learning culture. She is a keynote speaker, author and educator. Mentoring organisations of varied industries, Tracey works with leaders and teams to improve collaborative cultures in large, and often multifaceted, workplace communities. Change is inevitable for every business model, and through innovation and deep communication, Tracey brings leaders and their teams on a journey to engagement by creating an energy buzz.

Tracey Ezard
+61 417 371 563
[email protected]

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