Discover how you can learn from the best when it comes to building workplace trust—and create a culture of true collaboration.
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In the intricate web of family dynamics, one pioneering therapist stood out as a beacon of hope and healing: Virginia Satir. Her remarkable ability to mend broken relationships and foster trust among family members left an enduring mark on the field of family therapy.
One practice of hers was getting her patients to view themselves and the people around them as an iceberg: The behaviors they exhibited were just what showed above the surface. Underneath were feelings, perceptions, and coping mechanisms. This helped them understand that everything people do, even if they're acting out, can be viewed as working toward connection—which fosters trust.
Now what if we told you that therapy techniques, including Virginia Satir’s principles, can be powerful tools for managers to build trust in the workplace, too? We're not saying managers should be therapists, but you can put their tactics to good use and foster even better workplace relationships and outcomes.
When teams trust their leaders and each other, they’re more creative and do their best work. That’s because the reward of effective collaboration is greater than the risk of saying the wrong thing. Managers can learn from therapists, who are experts at building trust, when it comes to creating psychologically safe workplaces and getting the best from their team.
In this article, you'll learn about why trust is essential for solid teamwork and how to apply the same strategies therapists use to build more trust. We'll also dive into how a visual collaboration tool like Switchboard can help build stronger, more cohesive teams that prioritize working together.
Want to build team trust?
Switchboard helps you foster a culture of trust by bringing everyone and everything together for true collaboration.
How does trust shape the workplace?
According to bestselling author, executive coach, and business adviser Jesse Lyn Stoner, "People follow leaders by choice. Without trust, at best you get compliance."
Team members need to trust leadership and trust each other to work better together. In fact, research by MIT Sloan suggests trusting employees are 260% more motivated to work and are 50% less likely to search for another job. This is a win-win for employees and employers: You get to work with happier people who love what they do and stick around longer.
Trust can also help teams:
- Navigate change
- Increase agility
- Take ownership of their work
- Boost morale and team camaraderie
- Improve creative problem solving and decision making skills
Two types of trust that are essential for teamwork
Let's explore the two types of trust you need to nurture team resilience and improve your ability to work together.
This involves trusting that your team will get their work done on time and that tasks will be followed up on. It also means employees can trust that there are robust processes and a culture of transparency and accountability in place for them to do their best work.
“What you really want is clarity. The clearer you can be about what it is that you need: what you need from your team, what you need from your leadership, what your clients need, then you can take action that's in alignment with creating that. And that simplifies the decision-making about what does and doesn't get prioritized and what you say no to. So I think clarity, definitely does create that security, that safety.” - Tara Keech, executive communication coach.
This involves trusting that you’ll be heard, seen, and supported by your people. Teams that are great at active listening and radical candor are empowered to share ideas and support each other to improve.
Empathy and understanding during challenging times can create a supportive environment where individuals lean on each other for encouragement and motivation.
This can all help reduce burnout and stress at work and enable you to make more workplace friendships. And making friends is critical: Research shows that people with friends at work are more productive and better support key business outcomes.
How do you build trust in a workplace? 8 techniques used by therapists
Building trust takes time and dedication. And, as many therapists know, years and years of training and experience. Obviously, nobody’s suggesting you become a therapist on top of your regular job, but using therapy techniques is a great starting point to build trust.
Use the steps below to bring awareness to how you manage your team, and what you can do to improve team dynamics and teamwork leadership skills.
1. Establishing rapport
Therapists strive to create a nonjudgemental environment from the beginning. They engage in active listening, show empathy, and express genuine interest in their client's experiences.
Building rapport can make people feel safer to express themselves and become more connected to their team and company. This is especially important when it comes to creating a positive remote work culture where everyone feels connected, despite geographical distance or time differences.
In fact, leaders who take steps to improve workplace relationships and rapport are more likely to support a safe work environment, including fewer reliability concerns.
How to establish rapport in the workplace
- Educate yourself on cultural sensitivity. Therapists recognize and respect the cultural backgrounds, values, and beliefs of their patients. Cultural sensitivity promotes trust and validates your people's unique perspectives, so it's important to use inclusive language and get to know employees beyond cultural markers.
- Host frequent 1:1s. Check in with everyone on a regular basis to see how they're doing, if they need support, and to squeeze in some solo time with leadership. This lets them know you're putting their needs and interests first.
- Be vulnerable yourself. Leading by example is a powerful way to show, not tell, your team what's expected of them and to shape company culture. For example, a marketing manager might tell their employees about a time when they missed a project deadline, and what they learned from the experience. This can help humanize leadership while building on a culture of learning.
- Team building. Coming together as a team for team-building activities and games can build trust through mutual experiences and wins. For example, if you're using Switchboard as your visual collaboration platform, you can ask icebreaker questions during team meetings and help get the momentum going for the rest of the session.
2. Building collaborative goals
Therapists involve patients in the therapeutic process by collaboratively setting goals and treatment plans. This approach ensures that therapy aligns with the patient's needs, preferences, and values, giving the patient more ownership and partnership in the process.
How to build collaborative goals in the workplace
- Get individual buy-in. Development goals should consider the individual's skills, interests, and career or progression path. When employees have a say in the process, and feel it reflects their genuine interests, they can be more likely to follow through.
- Get input on departmental OKRs. Ask your team for their thoughts on any departmental objectives and key results (OKRs) and get insights into how their collaborative goals align with company goals.
- Involve the team in goal setting. In keeping with company goals, ask team members for input on which specific goals they believe the team should work towards. Andrea Galvez, Vice President, Client Success & Membership at the Financial Health Network, says you can do this by: "Asking your team to establish the metrics they want to be held accountable for, together."
"Typically, I ask for between two and four shared goals for the team for the year. Those then ladder up and become our departmental or team OKRs. And we report on those and track them quarterly." - Andrea Galvez, Vice President, Client Success & Membership at the Financial Health Network.
3. Setting clear boundaries
In therapy, you often establish clear professional boundaries to create a safe and predictable therapeutic relationship. Therapists will outline the limits of the therapeutic process, including the roles and responsibilities of both the therapist and the patient. Clear boundaries can foster trust and help create a therapeutic structure.
How to set clear boundaries in the workplace
- Set expectations about work-life balance. This includes leading by example and avoiding working late or promoting an "always on" work schedule. Make sure everyone on your team knows they can turn to you about reducing stress or managing their responsibilities, and how to ask for more time if they need it.
- Encourage a healthy mix of asking for support and taking ownership. Make sure you provide the right resources and tools so people aren't relying on the manager for hand-holding through tasks or getting access to files or tech.
- Establish OOO rules and guidelines. For example, not checking your notifications, emails, or Slack messages when you're out of office, including vacation, personal, or sick leave.
Pro tip: Create a dedicated Switchboard room for employee resources including your OOO rules and guidelines. Keep everyone up to date on changes to your process or documents, and what they can expect when they're ramping up to go on vacation.
4. Consistency and reliability
Therapists strive to be consistent in their behavior, maintaining regular session schedules and being punctual. Consistency helps patients develop a sense of reliability and trust in the therapist's commitment to their well-being.
How to be consistent and reliable in the workplace
- Have regular check-ins and office hours. By making yourself consistently available to your team, you're showing them they can rely on you to be there if they need support or guidance.
- Honor your word. Prioritizing commitments and delivering on promises can increase trust in your ability to make good decisions that truly benefit the team.
- Be punctual and follow up on matters discussed in 1:1s. It's crucial to arrive on time and show that you respect others' schedules and time commitments. Also, make sure you follow up on action items and matters discussed in meetings to build trust in your ability to follow through.
Pro tip: Use Switchboard for spontaneous 1:1s, planned brainstorming sessions, or regular team huddles. Add your project management tool and meeting agenda, import meeting recordings, and start timing your meeting all in one place. After the meeting, everyone can still access the room and everything in it, and you can use AI to transcribe meeting action items so nothing slips through the cracks.
5. Transparency and feedback
Most therapists are transparent about their therapeutic approach, interventions, and progress. They seek feedback from patients regularly to gauge their experience, address any concerns or misunderstandings, and make adjustments when necessary. This open feedback loop can promote trust and collaboration.
How to be transparent and get feedback in the workplace
- Be an active listener. Active listening shows that you value and respect others' opinions and feelings, which can lead to stronger personal and professional relationships. This means maintaining eye contact, avoiding interruptions, using verbal and nonverbal cues, summarizing what was said, empathizing with the speaker, and avoiding judgments.
- Establish psychological safety. People need to feel safe to express themselves, especially when providing feedback. Research shows that psychological safety in the workplace leads to more effective communication, better employee retention, and increased team performance. Here's more information on how to run a psychologically safe working environment.
- Create a space for employees to share feedback on your leadership. Fostering open communication channels, administering feedback forms, and even polling your team in a Switchboard meeting room are great ways to show employees you encourage their feedback.
- Follow through. To keep getting actionable feedback from your team, it's important to act on it or explain why you can't. This can keep morale and motivation up, especially if everyone's waiting to hear from you.
6. Empowerment and strengths-based approach
Therapists focus on identifying and nurturing their patients' strengths, resilience, and resources. By highlighting their capabilities and empowering them to make positive changes, they help patients develop a sense of self-efficacy and trust in their own abilities.
How to empower and strengthen your teams in the workplace
- Delegate work based on skills. When you focus on skills, you can better align team members with tasks and projects that interest them or play to their strengths. Skills-based assessments can also help you prioritize team development and upskilling by measuring employee performance, applied skills, and skills gaps.
- Give them the resources and tools they need to do their job. For example, Switchboard for visual collaboration; Asana for project management; Notion for document management; Slack for team comms.
7. Flexibility and adaptability
It's important for therapists to remain flexible and adaptable in their approach, recognizing that each patient is unique. They adjust their therapeutic techniques and interventions based on the individual needs and preferences of the patient. This personalized approach can build trust by demonstrating a commitment to the patient's well-being.
How to be flexible and adaptable in the workplace
- Learn about communication styles and personality types. It's not one size fits all: For instance, you might have introverted people on your team who prefer async work and interactive meeting tools to in-person brainstorms. So you need to make sure they can work in the way that's best for them to promote safety and trust.
- Be open to new ideas and feedback. As mentioned, asking for and responding to feedback can get you points when it comes to fostering team trust. Part of this, though, is being open to receiving new ideas and using them to inspire more people to contribute.
- Offer flexibility in working hours and location. If possible, try to provide flexible working arrangements. If not, try to offer benefits that improve the employee experience like free team lunches once a week.
Channeling your inner therapist to build trust in the workplace
Just as therapists like Virginia Satir guide people toward personal growth and healing, leaders who embrace these qualities can help their teams reach greater cohesion, productivity, and success.
While becoming a licensed therapist takes years of work and education, you can still take a page out of their book when it comes to fostering mutual trust with your team. For example, by setting clear boundaries, building collaborative goals, and prioritizing empowerment and a strengths-based approach.
When teams trust their leaders and each other, they work together because they feel safe to share their thoughts without worrying about being wrong. Managers can learn from therapists, who are experts at building trust, to create workplaces where everyone feels comfortable—and this helps the team do their best work.
With Switchboard in your corner, you also get features like persistent rooms that make it easy to keep your projects, processes, and people in one place. This helps bring consistency, team-building, and collaboration to your workplace—and build a foundation of trust.
Want to build team trust?
Switchboard helps you foster a culture of trust by bringing everyone and everything together for true collaboration.
Frequently asked questions about building trust in the workplace
What is a common misconception about building trust in the workplace?
A common misconception about building employee trust in the workplace is that trust-building is easy and can be achieved quickly. It takes dedication, consistent behavior, and multiple initiatives to build mutual respect and an environment of trust.
Is there a difference between trust and respect?
There is a difference between trust and respect: While trust often includes an element of respect, they are not the same thing. You can trust someone's reliability and honesty without necessarily respecting their opinions or values.
What does building trust in the workplace mean?
Building trust in the workplace is about creating a culture where individuals feel safe, respected, and confident in their interactions with their colleagues.