We worked in tandem: my client was the communicator in the corridors, the tireless weaver of goodwill holding the organization together.  I was their group facilitator and coach who opened the space for genuine conversations, and ensured it stayed open whenever the teams met.

The organization itself was at a crossroads. Due to changes in their business world, expectations were rising faster than new staff could be recruited and trained. In a matter of months, this motley crew had gone from being woefully neglected and underfunded to being at the top of the agenda for their CEO.

As a result, people were exhausted, running on empty after years of being asked to do more with less. Resentment was building, while trust was on the decline.

Re-establishing Trust: Do you have a plan?

We devised a process to re-establish trust dialogue in an organization that had been battered by cutbacks and a merger.

First thing’s first, start at the top

Focusing on the Executive Team was the first order of business; honest questions were asked and debated.

  • Why do you come to work here?
  • Why is your work important to the organization?
  • What difference do you want to make?

Rekindling their passion for their work was important to help them see beyond present obstacles and focus on the possibilities ahead.

While exploring the Why, they also rediscovered Who they were:  Talented, resilient leaders who managed professionals with solid world class expertise.

Once they reminded themselves of the Why and the Who, their focus could now be on What to undertake to rebuild trust.

The plan therefore involved a series of intense meetings of 3 hours each with each leadership group. In between meetings, the groups put their actions in motion, met informally, and celebrated their small wins.

Do your best to keep it real

Keeping-it-real translated into providing avenues for honest dialogue. Specifically,

  • Spaces needed to be occupied with people of the same level, thereby leveling the playing field.
  • It meant keeping the groups small to create the safest possible space where people could be vulnerable and express what was really on their minds and in their hearts.
  • It required listening to others who may not agree with you, keeping the space open and respectful.

This same process was used for each layer of management and supervision: a series of intense genuine conversations, where each conversation built on the previous one.

Vulnerability opens the door to trust

It may seem paradoxical, but the more vulnerable and open you are in a group, the more you can trust the group (I have included an excellent video by Patrick Lencioni in this hyperlink).

Being vulnerable in work groups can mean saying things like:

  • I am exhausted by the pace and can’t keep up
  • I worry my team doesn’t have the resources and stamina needed to meet demands
  • I regret what I said and the tone I used with you at the last meeting; that was uncalled for.
  • I have strong doubts this strategy will work but am concerned about being labelled a naysayer

This level of vulnerability invites others to show up genuinely.

Where trust flourishes, excellence follows: Are you willing to commit to trust?

It took 6 months of consistent investment and commitment to trust for it to take root. My client tells me people are more joyful now and seem more in control of their work lives.

It may take another 6 months or more for the ripple effects to be felt throughout the organization. My client and I are hopeful we can make it happen and are faithful to our process of holding regular genuine conversations, each building on the previous one.

What is your experience of how trust is built and maintained in your team?

What conditions need to exist for trust to flourish?

I look forward to reading your comments.


2 thoughts on “How to Build Trust After the Upheaval: One Conversation at a Time”

  1. jacqueline lawrence

    Thanks Dominique for another great blog that resonates deeply. Thanks for the reminder that trust is built one conversation at a time. How do you begin when that sense of safety is not there and there is no alignment of what conversation is necessary or needed in this moment?

    1. Dominique Dennery

      Great question Jacqueline! Let me see if I can provide some food for thought.
      First, the sense of safety. I will assume you are not feeling safe to broach this conversation. What creates more safety for many of us is to have a clear intention for the conversation.
      What is important to you about having this conversation? What do you hope to achieve?
      If the outcome you seek is outside your control, i.e. to get the other to change something or understand your perspective, then re-framing the outcome as an outcome that is about you, will help you know when you have achieved your goal, whether the other person is favorable or not.
      You may feel trepidation and see the conversation as risky. Maybe it is. Again, what is the risk of having the conversation versus what is the risk of not having the conversation? Only you know for sure. Many clients realize avoiding key conversations may make things worse. Others choose not to have the conversation at all, and end the relationship. In my experience, having the conversation tends to build muscles you need for future conversations. A personal bias!
      The second point you raise is about the other’s perception that the conversation may not be necessary at this moment.That may be true. The question for you: How important is it that you engage the other in the conversation… for you. If in your world, this is important, that feeling is not likely to go away. The other person may be unaware or unwilling to engage with you. You can’t force someone to have the conversation. You can only try. The outcome may help you decide if you stay or walk away.
      Finally, the way we have these conversations can increase our chances of success. If we are able to share observations first without judgement and then speak to our feelings and thoughts and make a respectful request (see Non-Violent Communications model or Awareness Wheel), the other person is more likely to be able to hear you and offer their own observations, thoughts and feelings. Eventually, you can express what you both need to make this relationship work and respectfully request it.
      I’ll stop there and hope this is helpful.

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