8 Ways to build Trust in a small business

blog May 16, 2023

Building trust is a process and requires consistency, just like most things in business.

If all your team trusts each other, you will have a financially successful and sustainable business.

In sport, the term often used is ‘I have your back’.

It is key to employee engagement, a great culture and the productivity necessary to survive and thrive in the business environment we are all challenged with regularly.

So what can you do today, to build and maintain that trust? 

Following are eight strategies and tactics, from my own observations and experience, that will help you build trust in your small business.

1. Share your personal histories

Sharing your personal experiences in your life to date is a great way to get to know someone, which then provides context for the way people act and behave.

You become a person and not a number!

I love the initiative that the Richmond Football Club (in the Australian Football League) introduced a few years ago, called the 3H's….hardship, highlight and hero. 

They're three words that have meant a lot at Richmond, as players, coaches and staff have poured their hearts out to each other and built relationships that have driven some remarkable years.

Every week, from early in the pre-season, the Tigers set aside time to gather as a group and listen to teammates speak about something personal to them.

It's a credit to all the players who have stood in front of the group and shared something special or something that is unique to them. 

It takes a lot of courage. 

When you share those things you're on your way to building a good relationship, and more importantly trust.

You don't share something that is personal if you don't have the trust, and that is something that every player has done.

2. Provide regular praise and positive feedback in front of peers

We all need a show of appreciation from leaders and peers for our efforts and results. 

The best feedback is often not monetary, but simple verbal recognition in front of the team for a job well done. 

A culture of trust is built over the long term by consistent sharing of results and efforts, so ensure you have a forum to facilitate this.

A weekly team meeting works well, ideally in person, but virtual or both at the very least.

As part of the agenda, you provide the opportunity to ‘praise’ one of your team members.

3. Simplify the organisational structure 

It can be ‘horses for courses’ but too many levels of management can create complexity, uncertainty and stress - with communication.

Use a ‘less is more’ approach, have agreed communication channels, and ensure your people are accountable for their actions and outcomes.

They will receive more personal satisfaction from their contributions as a result, and assist the business owner and / or managers in managing, and building trust at the same time.

4. Build personal relationships with key team members

Trust requires a feeling of empathy and concern for team members, both inside and outside of work. 

Your actions will always speak louder than words. 

Recognising key individuals and their needs for time off, personally rewarding exceptional efforts, or just saying hello and thank you for a job well done, is very effective.

5. Don’t micro-manage

This is often challenging for small business owners.

Empowering team members to do their own work their way is an important trust factor. 

You should always be available and willing to coach team members when requested, or share your experience and skill. 

Make sure they have the systems, processes, tools and training to do the job requested and expected.

Otherwise, you can be setting them up for failure, which leads to an erosion of trust.

6. Don’t hide behind negative emotions and outbursts

Trusted leaders and managers must be calm, approachable and warm.

If they are cold and egotistical, any trust will be lost.

Too many teams I have seen over my years business coaching, live in constant fear of unjustified reprisals and repeated demands. 

Your team wants to see vulnerability and are willing to accept feedback and team recommendations.

Just deliver the messages without emotion.

7. Provide career growth options and feedback

Trusted leaders and managers are always looking to provide opportunities for career advancement and professional development.

A career ‘pathway’ that is documented and communicated as part of an induction and onboarding process, is a great way to engage your team members.

It also provides transparency for everyone, which also enables trust.

Investing in your team makes them more valuable to you, either now or later in their career.

There was a CEO of a large company in the USA who was challenged by the CFO on the cost of training the team.

The CFO asked:

“What if we invest all this money in their training and development, then they leave?”

To which the CEO retorted:

“What happens if we don’t develop them, and they stay?”

8. Include team members in regular business status updates

Transparency and openness about customers, competitors and business results is key to engagement, loyalty and trust. 

This requires active listening on your part, as well as responsiveness to team questions and concerns via all communications channels.

While certain information is absolutely worth keeping on aneed to know” basis, those circumstances should be few and far between. 

There is a huge difference between keeping initiatives under wraps and employees not knowing the status of the business.

The former is acceptable. 

The latter is not.

I often hear business owners saying they cannot provide their employees with revenue and profit figures.

There are situations where this is probably true, but the reality is that most employees have the perception that you are making more profit than you actually are….they only see a snapshot!

Even with the above initiatives, please understand that trust doesn’t happen overnight, so be prepared for a journey, including some fallbacks and restarts. 

CONSISTENCY & DISCIPLINE is needed with everything you do!

I reckon the bar has been raised by the new generation of workers, with their instant access to social media and global business cultures, but the principles are the same. 

Leave your EGO at the door, which is one of the All Black’s Rugby teams core values.

You must SERVE your team to build trust.

The 5 dysfunctions of a team, written by Patrick Lencioni, is a great resource to help build trust.

Lencioni offers explicit instructions for overcoming the human behavioural tendencies that he says corrupt teams:

  • Absence of trust
  • Fear of conflict
  • Lack of commitment
  • Avoidance of accountability, and
  • Inattention to results.

If you need help building trust throughout your team, join our Business Transformation Program waitlist.