Transforming Church Team Blog
resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future

How to Build Trust in Your Organization

Dr. Jim Osterhaus

We talked about basic management issues.  Now we need to unpack the issue that is the absolute foundation of all relationships: trust. Everything about organizations, about communication, managing, teams, you name it, is built on trust.

Have you ever noticed that it takes time to build trust in the workplace? As a corollary to this, cynicism seems to multiply like a weeds.  Cynicism tends to permeate an organization where trust is in short supply.

The good news is that once trust is established, a church team can enter into appropriate, constructive conflict, without fear that it will turn destructive. We’ll talk more about conflict in the next blog.

Trust has to do with a willingness on people’s part to be vulnerable within the team. It’s an openness about mistakes and weaknesses. Organizations and teams that lack trust are unable to engage in unfiltered and passionate disagreement around the mission of the organization. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.

Once you have a trusting team, you can have honest disagreements that lead to decisions and plans of action that people are actually committed to. So much of what I see in organizations is compliance (‘I’ll do what you ask, but my heart’s not in it’), but very little commitment. Commitment arises only after each member of a team has been able to wrestle with the initiatives that are presented, offer their disagreements, and grapple with all of the alternatives before arriving at a decision. Once that occurs, the team can hold one another accountable, because there is a shared sense of ownership in the decision.

Trust –> Disagree –> Commit to Decisions –> Hold Each Other Responsible –> Focus on the Achievements Everyone Created

How is Trust Established?

          Let’s look at the building blocks that are critical to the growth of trust:





Begin with predictability: You’re able to predict in advance what I will do. That’s because I’m consistent. I do the same thing, over and over again, free from variation or contradiction. But I could do the same wrong thing over and over. So that means I have to be dependable: I get the same positive result over and over again from the person or organization.

The last building block is congruence. What I say is backed up by what I do. I talked about this quite a bit in my blog postings last Fall. Our ability to think and act inconsistently, and then cover up the discrepancy, knows no limits.

Congruency may be the most important building block to trust – what I say to people matches the way I behave toward those people. Often it is hard to be consistent in an organization that is not predictable and consistent. Therefore, how I communicate to my direct reports becomes critical. As managers we usually can’t directly influence how the large organization is functioning. But I can influence those on my team, those that report directly to me. And the best way to do this is by being congruent. We’ll talk more about incongruence when we talk about change. We’ll look at how our internal competing values actually produce double messages which are the stuff of incongruence. But you’ll have to wait for that.

So what I am saying is I need to be trust-worthy in order to move forward. It starts with you. And being congruent in the messages you send to people is critical.

Building Trust on My Team “

A willingness to be vulnerable within the team – openness about mistakes and weaknesses.

 Lencioni says trust is a willingness to be vulnerable within your team – an openness about mistakes and weaknesses. And that openness and vulnerability starts with you. If you’re not willing to be open, how do you expect anyone else on your team to be open?

Now consider these points for identifying the presence or absence of trust.

Absence of Trust

  • Conceal weaknesses
  • Don’t ask for help or feedback
  • Hesitate to offer help outside your own areas
  • Jump to conclusions about intentions
  • Waste time and energy managing their behaviors for effect
  • Hold grudges
  • Avoid spending time together

When Trust is Present

  • Admit weaknesses or mistakes
  • Ask for help
  • Accept feedback and input
  • Give each other the benefit of the doubt
  • Take risks in offering feedback
  • Focus time and energy on issues, not politics
  • Offer and accept apologies without hesitation
  • Look forward to meetings

One of the quickest ways to identify the presence of trust is in the area of conflict. Does our church staff team (or ruling board of elders) have meaningful conflict? This will be reflected in meetings:

 Teams that Trust and Engage in Conflict:

  • Have interesting meetings
  • Extract the ideas of all team members
  • Solve real problems quickly
  • Minimize politics
  • Put critical topics on the table for discussion

 As church teams trust one another, and engage in healthy conflict, they can then commit to decisions and actions. We’ll be discussing all of this later when we talk about building effective teams.


One Response to “How to Build Trust in Your Organization”

  1. Hi, Jim–

    I’ve been following these last few posts of yours, and thought it was about time to put up a comment and let you know how much I’m enjoying reading through them and thinking through the issues you raise. Next best thing, I guess, to discussing them in person with you!

    There is a lot of great stuff here–is another book in the future for you, perhaps? I think a nuts and bolts of church management kind of book could be a real success.

    Blessings to you and all at TAG,
    Abram Kielsmeier-Jones

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