Building Trust In the Workplace – 3 Dos and Don’ts

Building trust in the workplace/jobsite requires building both applied trust and emotional trust. Building trust is not easy, but it is well worth the effort. Lean expert, Keyan Zandy explains three dos and don’ts on building trust in the workplace.

My operational leadership role allows me the opportunity to observe many superintendents as they lead, manage, and run their jobsites, and I have noticed that the individuals who are able to build trust with their project teams and trade partners seem to have projects that make more money, finish on time, and have less rework. By studying the formula that makes these builders successful, I’ve realized that there are two basic types of trust that they excel at building: Applied Trust and Emotional Trust.

Applied Trust and Emotional Trust Defined

Applied Trust is trust that is built and earned by hard work. Superintendents who show up on time, work hard, and do what they say earn credibility with the men and women on the field, and this trust allows the field to rely on their competence and dependability. They know and trust that the superintendent can get the job done. Applied trust is a must, and the jobsite field leaders that don’t have it experience duplication of work, missed deadlines, and poor productivity.

Emotional Trust is a notch above applied trust. Emotional trust is the kind of trust when you know someone has your back. When you feel your work is respected, and also respected as a person. Emotional trust allows for honest thoughts to be shared, vulnerability around feelings and ideas, and healthy conflict when things get tough. This type of trust is more than just hard work and meeting commitments; it requires a certain level of emotional intelligence.

So how can you build this kind of trust and benefit from this leadership style?

Do: Be Honest

Being honest could be considered the foundation of trust. There are many reasons why people are not honest with themselves or others. From trying to make yourself look better or have more credibility to avoiding embarrassment, these traits unfortunately exist on the jobsite. Superintendents who are truthful and transparent about the schedule milestones dates, honest when they don’t know the answer to a question, and who do not keep others in the dark on key issues set the tone for building trust on the jobsite. Honest superintendents:

  • Keep their word and commitments.
  • Tell it like it is, rather than sugarcoat an issue.
  • Are up front about If they have a personal bias or conflict of interest.
  • Take responsibility when they make mistakes.
  • Don’t like or overcompensate for their shortcomings.

Don’t: Conceal Information

Many field leaders want to hold all the cards and protect important information. This provides a sense of power and control over the entire jobsite as well as the people working on it. They worry that, if others have the same information, they might be excluded from decisions or that they won’t like decisions will others make. This behavior kills teamwork and trust and makes the jobsite completely reliant upon that lone field leader.

The more trades who are involved in sharing information on the jobsite, the better the opportunity there is for deeper trust and unity between trade forepersons, which will allow more opportunities for these professionals to interact. When this interaction occurs, they become more familiar with each other, and this facilitates an openness to share even more information, which can decrease potential conflicts in the field.

Do: Communicate Openly and Often

Open and often communication is very important on the jobsite and will build trust with trade partners. The best way to do this on your project is with a daily huddle where trade foremen get in the habit of meeting daily and routinely answering the following questions:

  • What are you working on?
  • Where are you working?
  • What are your constraints/needs?
  • How many crews/workers are on-site?
  • What material deliveries are coming up?
  • What are the upcoming project milestones?

By asking these six questions, you’re engaging the trade partners and allowing them to collaborate and coordinate with the other trades. This achieves buy-in and accountability and allows for a more reliable workflow.

Don’t: Forget That Direct Reports/Trade Partners Are People

As a superintendent, making sure a project makes schedule is a primary goal—and when the heat is on, it can be easy to ride people to perform. However, the superintendents who are best at building trust have a special way of seeing the men and woman in the field as people and have a level of empathy and compassion for those they work with. The best way to understand this is to first remember that everyone is dealing with some level of stress or pain. Sometimes we won’t know what those things are—you might be surprised to know how significant some of these stressors are and how well the person is hiding it from view. Next, think about what you might be able to do to help that person. Ways you can show your field leaders you care about them as a person include:

  • Have empathy. Stay conscious. Try to imagine or connect with what this person is (or might b) experiencing: what is causing them stress or anxiety? What could be weighing on them? Simply be cognizant of what they may be going through.
  • Practice patience and kindness. Give everyone some grace and room to be human. We’ve all become more transparent in our interactions this year and more vulnerable.
  • Be proactive. See if you can solve a problem for someone before it gets worse. Look for ways to smooth the path someone is walking on.

Do: Ask for Feedback and Use it to Improve

An important step to becoming a Lean builder is to foster a culture of continuous improvement on the jobsite. There is no better way to do this then to ask for feedback and use it. One way to do this is to make a “Plus/Delta” part of your field meetings. At the end of a huddle or coordination meeting, ask the team for feedback. A plus would be what brought value and how can it be repeated. A delta would be what can the team change or tweak to add more value. Asking for feedback can also be a one-to-one conversation. Superintendents who do this well ask:

  • How can I help you?
  • What isn’t working right on the jobsite?
  • In what ways can communication between the office and field be improved?
  • How can I support you and make you more effective on this project?
  • What can I do differently next time that will be more helpful?

Don’t: Place Blame and Take Credit

If you’ve ever worked with a superintendent who takes all the credit when things are going well—but will quickly place blame on the architect, trades, or their project manager when things go wrong—then you will know how quickly that creates distrust in the field. The superintendents that have both applied and emotional trust don’t do this. When a project succeeds or a milestone is hit, they give the credit to the field and call out champions for their contributions. On the other hand, when a milestone or project goal falls short, they accept responsibility for the field and say things like, “we didn’t meet our milestone” as opposed to blaming people or firms. When the field sees the success or failure as a team, they are more likely to have trust.

As with all things, practice makes perfect. If it’s not already natural for you, this way of thinking and type of deliberate approach to interacting with people can take time to acclimate to—this is doubly difficult when under stress. But take the time to grow your trust-building skills. You, your project teams, and the projects you are all working on together will only benefit.

Keyan Zandy is a longtime Lean practitioner, enthusiast, and advocate. As Skiles Group’s COO, he has a dual focus on client service and on nurturing a progressive company culture. He is ultimately responsible for the oversight of the firm’s daily operations and ensuring that their Lean processes are continuously improved and consistently practiced. He is the co-author of The Lean Builder: A Builder’s Guide to Applying Lean Tools in the Field, which simplifies and clearly articulates the benefits of seven primary Lean concepts, and delivers them in a highly-relatable, immediately-applicable, and field-friendly manner. Keyan also serves as CEO for Smart Safety, an award-winning crisis management communication and emergency response tool.

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