How to build a culture of trust in your organisation

We are operating in a time of incredible uncertainty. And in uncertain times, trust is more important than ever.

Social scientists define two different types of trust in organisations: cognitive and affective.

Cognitive trust is “how confident someone feels in the leader’s technical ability to do the job”, while affective trust is ‘trust of the heart’, which is “built by empathy, closeness and genuine feelings of concern and care.”

While cognitive trust is important for getting work done, affective trust can often be the thing that takes a workplace to the next level of creativity and connectivity.

Employees who trust their organisation are more loyal, engaged, committed, and will advocate for their workplace – so how can leaders build an organisation-wide culture of trust?    

If you’d like to build greater trust in your NFP’s workplace, here are 5 key ways trust can be built and improved:

1. Be transparent, and communicate often

Research by social research firm McCrindle has found that both NFP employees and donors agree that transparency is the number one way to build trust in organisations.    

Whether you are a team leader or a CEO, regularly sharing with your team or broader organisation how you are dealing with challenges that arise, why you are doing what you’re doing, and what, if anything, others can do to help, can build trust. When your team knows that you have their interests in mind and can clearly see your rationale, uncertainty is removed and confidence grows.

And just as people might struggle to trust you if you aren’t being upfront, they may find it difficult to trust you if you only communicate with them sporadically.

Communicating predictably and often is crucial for building trust and has become even more so in a world of rapid change and remote work where you have less face-to-face time with everyone.    

2. Listen to peoples’ responses    

When you ask someone how they are going, actively listen to the response. If you ask them for input or feedback, do the same. Actively listening demonstrates that you trust your employees – and trusted employees feel valued, are more engaged, and trust you in return.

Giving someone your full attention while they are speaking can be challenging, especially when there are others vying for your input and there is internal chatter going on. But letting someone speak without interruption, then clarifying if you’ve understood them correctly, can go a long way towards demonstrating empathy, care and respect; ingredients which will, over time, build trust.

If you can’t give the person your full attention, even letting them know that right now you’re a bit distracted but that you will do your best, or asking if they’d consider having the conversation another time, may be appropriate. It shows that you value them enough to give them your energy and attention.

3. Be fair in your treatment of employees

Fairness is one of the building blocks of trust. If it becomes clear that managers enjoy working with some employees more than others (showing favouritism), this can create an ‘in-group’ and make other people feel like outsiders.

This makes it difficult for those who are excluded to trust that you value their inputs, and more importantly, value them as people. Without that trust, your people are likely to be less engaged.

Naturally, some people will get along better than others, and fairness is not about treating every person the same way. Fairness is about understanding each person as an individual and ensuring they each have the tools and support they need to succeed.

If your employees feel like you value each and every one of them, this boosts morale and engagement, in turn, increasing trust.

4. Do what you say you will 

If you set a meeting time with someone, show up. If you say you’ll give feedback by a certain time, do it. And if you can’t, let the people involved know.

Trust isn’t going to develop overnight. It takes time, and seeing people consistently follow through on their word. 

5. Acknowledge your mistakes as well as your successes

Everyone makes mistakes, and your employees know this. Acknowledging mistakes, and demonstrating your attitude towards them in the workplace, can be key in helping employees feel like they can be honest with you.

If employees can see that you view mistakes as a chance to learn and grow, they’ll trust that they can offer ideas and give things a go without the pressure of things being perfect – making them more engaged and communicative.

Equally, acknowledging the successes in your team or your organisation is encouraging and can give employees something to get excited about. Success is sometimes a sign of luck, but often a sign of competency; it demonstrates that you can do what you set out to achieve, and 70% of NFP employees believe strong results are important for building trust. Competency fuels trust in your capabilities as an organisation and encourages individuals’ efforts too.


When your people trust their managers and leaders, work is better. It supports improved communication, stronger engagement, higher motivation, and increased advocacy. In a world where change is near-constant, more trust will enable more organisations to fulfill their goals and missions.                                        

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