Unlocking the Power of Trust with Rachel Botsman

Rachel Botsman at the CultureLab podcast

You meet a new colleague for the first time, and… something clicks! You trust them, but you don’t know why. Then, on another day, you’re teamed with someone you’ve known and worked with for a while but a barrier stands in the way.

That’s the enigma of trust. It isn’t merely about familiarity. It’s about something more elusive – an intangible connection that either binds or separates us.

In the workplace, trust certainly isn’t a nice to have; it’s vital for working relationships to thrive. It can elevate a team to excellence, speed things up, and create an environment where innovation and creativity flourish. Conversely, a lack of trust can become a stumbling block, slowing progress to a crawl, stifling ideas, and fostering a climate of doubt and uncertainty.

Given the importance of trust, I wanted to understand it better and so I invited one of the world’s leading trust experts, Rachel Botsman, a Trust Fellow at Oxford University.

Here’s how Rachel defines trust:

“Trust is a confident relationship with the unknown that enables us to take leaps into the unknown to navigate uncertainty and place faith and confidence in systems that we don’t entirely understand.”

She emphasizes that trust is not static; it’s a dynamic and living entity that changes with our experiences and interactions. It isn’t just about reliability or consistency. Trust is the bridge between the known and the unknown, the leap of faith that we often take in our relationships, both personally and professionally.

In the context of the workplace, Rachel’s definition of trust helps explain why it’s so vital and yet so elusive. Trusting a colleague or a team doesn’t just mean relying on them to do their job. It means believing in their competence, integrity, and agenda even when you can’t see the whole picture.

Join us as we explore the intricate nature of trust and the strategies to repair and enhance trust within teams and across cultures.

Episode highlights

Who we trust. Trust is a fluid and adaptable response that can change from one context to another. You might trust a colleague with a critical work project but not lend them a significant sum of money. Similarly, you might trust a friend with personal secrets but not with professional responsibilities.

Nurturing trust at work. Here are a few things Rachel mentioned as important trust enhancers in the workplace:

  • Vulnerability. Often you have to give trust before you can receive trust. Trust and vulnerability are two sides of the same coin. In the workplace, this plays out in the risks we take with our colleagues and teams. We might share an untested idea, open up about our uncertainties, or admit when we need help. These are vulnerable actions, but they are often the first steps in building a trusting relationship.
  • Clarity of expectations. Creating clarity around who is in charge of what, when and why is a great trust-building tool. Often, people don’t deliver to the level that you expect, not because they don’t care enough, or they’re not capable enough but simply because there are no clear expectations.
  • Autonomy. Autonomy is a cornerstone of trust in the workplace. Micromanagement, on the other hand, undermines it, conveying a lack of faith in team members’ abilities. Granting autonomy empowers employees, signaling trust in their judgment and expertise.

Trust in remote and hybrid setup. The remote and hybrid work revolution creates additional challenges and makes the clarity of expectations even more important.

Generational Dynamics and Trust in the Workplace: Younger generation looks at rewarding and motivation differently. Here are a few examples:

  • Tetris versus Roblox. These two games are lenses through which different generations view and shape their work playground. New generations want to create their own world and rules whereas older generations used to play with given rules.
  • End of hierarchy? It’s not the end of hierarchy but rather the beginning of a new era of self-organized teams.
  • Gen Z: Over 80% of Gen Z say that they would rather work for themselves or a startup now. They want control, creativity and self-authorization over hierarchy.

Repairing trust: We need to catch trust when it is wobbling, not when it’s broken down. To repair trust, we need to look out for the 3Ds as the red flags:

  • Defensiveness: When team members become defensive, it can signify a lack of psychological safety and trust. They may feel the need to guard themselves or their ideas, fearing criticism or misunderstanding.
  • Disengagement: A lack of engagement may be a sign that employees don’t feel valued or trusted. They may withdraw from actively participating in projects or discussions, which can lead to a lack of innovation and collaboration.
  • Disenchantment: This could manifest as a loss of enthusiasm or motivation, possibly stemming from a feeling of not being trusted or supported. When individuals feel disconnected or unimportant, it can lead to disillusionment with their work and the organization as a whole.

Listen to the interview in the player below or on iTunes. If you like what you hear, please leave a review, and it may be featured on a future episode.

More about Rachel Botsman

Rachel Botsman is a leading expert on trust in the modern world.

She is known for identifying ground-breaking paradigm shifts in business and society. She has been recognized as one of the world’s 30 top management thinkers by Thinkers50, one of the Top 10 most influential voices on LinkedIn, and honoured as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Her TED talks have been viewed more than five million times.

Rachel is the author of two critically acclaimed books, What’s Mine is Yours and Who Can You Trust?, that have been translated into 14 languages.

Her writings on trust have been widely published in the Guardian, Financial Times, The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, and Wired. Through her popular newsletter, Rethink with Rachel, she engages with a community of over 65,000 subscribers every week.

Rachel is known for her clear insights and warm storytelling and is often voted as the audience’s favourite speaker at events. Speaking and advisory clients include Adobe, Google, Xero, PwC, Goldman Sachs, Salesforce, Chicago Fed Reserve, Barclays and the Bank of England. She teaches entrepreneurs and leaders at Oxford University, Saïd Business School and created the first courses on trust in the digital world.

Books mentioned in this episode

What’s Mine is Yours by Rachel Botsman

Who Can You Trust? by Rachel Botsman

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle.

The Culture Map by Erin Meyer.

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Additional resources

CultureBrained® Community – a one-of-a-kind virtual community for Heads of Culture, founders, and leaders who want to up their culture game.

The Culture Playbook Guide.

Discover Your Personal Values.

Interview with Daniel Coyle on the CultureLab podcast- The Culture Playbook

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