Trust leads to terrific teamwork. Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Trust leads to terrific teamwork

How trust is all in the mind … and the 8 ways the neuroscience of trust will take your business to another level

Trust is everything when it comes to business. If you don’t have trust, you don’t have a business, simple as that.

That’s trust in every sense of the word from trust among your customers to trust among your staff and colleagues – and that’s what we’re going to look at here, how trust in the workplace can massively boost your business.

Like just about everything that makes the human body tick, trust emanates from the brain so let’s have a look at the neuroscience behind it.

According to Prof Paul Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies in Claremont, California, and author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies, a culture of trust within companies is all-important to ensure productivity remains high and they keep their best staff. When trust among staff is a business’s founding rock, staff seem to have more energy, are happier within themselves, collaborate better with colleagues and suffer less stress.

There is a science behind that trust which Prof Zak uncovered when he measured the brain activity of people while they worked which revealed 8 key ways leaders can create that all-important culture of trust within the business.

Prof Zak believes there must be a neurologic signal in the brain that indicates when we should trust someone and tests proved that a brain chemical called oxytocin appeared to do just one thing – reduce the fear of trusting a stranger. It also increases a person’s empathy which is great for people working with one another, but if people get stressed the oxytocin is inhibited which means they may not interact with others as effectively. So, keep stress down to keep the oxytocin high.

It led to further experiments that have culminated in these 8 ways managers can foster trust among their workforce.

1.  Championing excellence

Everyone loves to get positive feedback – or praise as we like to call it – but it’s even more powerful if it comes from your work colleagues. Perhaps seek nominations for the employee of the month (or year) from the workforce so everyone is, in effect, having a say on what is excellent. That public recognition not only fires up the person’s sense of trust, it inspires others to aim for the same excellence and is also a way of sharing best practice so others can learn from it.

2. The joy of teamwork with trust

When a manager assigns a team a challenging but achievable job, the moderate stress of the task releases neurochemicals, including oxytocin and adrenocorticotropin, that intensify people’s focus and strengthens social connections. When team members need to work together to reach a goal, brain activity co-ordinates their behaviours efficiently. But this only works if the tasks are attainable – vague or impossible goals cause people to give up before they even start.

3. Motivate through freedom, not micro-managing

Don’t micro-manage but trust people to do the job the most effective and efficient way they can find to do it. This sense of trust can be incredibly motivational and promotes innovation as people try different approaches to tasks … especially younger and inexperienced staff who are not constrained by what usually works in that business. Such free-thinking could end up changing how a company operates, even saving it time and money by increasing efficiency.

The coronavirus crisis will have made many businesses suddenly think very differently about how they work. A LinkedIn survey showed that nearly half of employees would give up a 20% salary increase for greater control over how they work. It’s that important to them.

4. ‘Let me do that’

Wherever possible let employees choose which projects they want to work on as they will be naturally interested in them, motivated to succeed and the tasks will probably best match their skill-set. They will also have put a subliminal pressure on themselves to do the very best they can.

5. ‘We’re all in this together’

Ensure staff are fully aware of the company’s goals, strategies and tactics as uncertainty leads to chronic stress, inhibiting the release of oxytocin which undermines teamwork. Communication is the key with daily, weekly or monthly reports from managers direct to staff.

6. Friends don’t let each other down

When people interact socially at work – from a chat by the coffee machine through to team nights out – they tend to work better and overall performance improves. They don’t want to let their team-mates – who they have started to see as friends – down. Managers who show interest and concern for their staff’s personal well-being and success at work find they will benefit from better quality and quantity of work.

7. There’s more to life than work

It’s vital to help people develop personally as well as professionally. Numerous studies show that acquiring new work skills isn’t enough; if you’re not growing as a human with a healthy work-life balance, your performance will suffer. When managers set clear goals, give employees the autonomy to reach them and provide consistent feedback, the backward-looking annual performance review is no longer necessary. Instead, it’s all about professional and personal growth and looking forward.

8. Managers shouldn’t be afraid to ask

Leaders should ask for help from staff instead of just telling them to do things as this stimulates their employees’ oxytocin production, increasing their trust. Asking for help is a sign of a secure leader – one who involves everyone to reach their goals – and taps into the natural human impulse to co-operate with others.

… and the result of all this

Employees at companies with a high trust ethos tend to be more interested in the work they do, are more productive, more innovative, have more energy, feel closer to their workmates and are way more likely to stay with the business. But what’s really interesting is that they also tend to earn an extra 17% more at companies with the highest trust factor compared to those with the lowest.

The only way this can happen is if employees in high-trust companies are more productive and innovative … and the neuroscience of oxytocin has a crucial role to play in this.