Kaya Consulting

Workplace trust: The key to more effective relationships and teams.

Workplace trust: The key to more effective relationships and teams.

Nurturing trust in the workplace is arguably one of the most effective ways to improve working relationships, morale, team performance and organisational effectiveness. But what is workplace trust? How can you assess it? And as a leader, what strategies can you employ to nurture it?

What is workplace trust?

Firstly, it’s important to draw the distinction between trust in relationships outside work, and workplace trust. Trust in personal relationships is quite different to trust in professional situations.

Perhaps the best way to conceptualise workplace trust is in terms of capability and benevolence, where capability refers to an individual’s capacity to perform a role, and benevolence refers to their attitude and feeling towards the organisation. In this way, we can create what we call the Trust Grid.

Trust Model

The four blocks on the Trust Grid

As leaders assessing workplace trust, we need to place the individuals within our team in one of four blocks on the Trust Grid, based on where we believe they sit on the capability and benevolence axes:


  1. The Distrust Block. Low on the capability and benevolence curves, this is someone you believe lacks the capability to do their role and, crucially, is indifferent or emotionally detached from the team and organisation.
  2. The Affection Block. Also known as ‘the nice guy block’ – high on the benevolence axis, but low on capability. These are people who clearly try hard and want the best for the team and organisation, but lack the capability and technical skills to fulfil their role properly.
  3. The Respect Block. This group demonstrates the difference between respect and trust. You respect their capabilities and know that they are technically competent, but you don’t trust that they have the best intentions – you think they focus on their wellbeing, not the team’s.
  4. The Trust Block. This is where you want everyone to be – highly capable, highly engaged, highly effective. We’re talking about people you trust entirely to perform and do the right thing by you and the rest of your team.

Why using the Trust Grid is so valuable to leaders

Often, as leaders and managers, we can experience a pressure to manage everybody in the same way. In truth, everyone in your team is different, requiring a different management style. Moreover, even if we tailor our leadership approach to suit individuals, it’s easy to get it wrong.

By plotting where the individuals within your team sit on the Trust Grid, we’re able to take a more objective look at your approach and behaviours as a leader. It gives us a framework for developing relationships, trust and practical strategies to help individuals progress to the Trust Block.

Getting your people to the Trust Block

There are lots of strategies you can employ to help your people grow and progress along the capability and benevolence growth curves. The key is to ask some pertinent questions, like:

  • What training or coaching can I provide to help people in the Distrust Block and Affection Block develop their technical skills and capabilities?
  • What support, encouragement and engagement strategies can I employ to help individuals in the Distrust Block and Respect Block feel involved, connected and responsible for the team?
  • And crucially, what’s the most appropriate way to manage and support the people already in the Trust Block?

Aspire to the Trust Block, but not at all costs

The Trust Block is the ultimate goal. In the Trust Block, all is well. Everyone is highly capable, as well as committed to the team. When your people are in the Trust Block, there are all sorts of benefits – to morale, the decision-making process, performance, productivity and organisational effectiveness.

But what if your training, coaching and support strategies don’t work? What if you’re monitoring the progress of individuals within the grid and they aren’t moving towards the Trust Block?

Protecting your positive energy

It goes without saying, you need to give your people time to respond to the help and support you provide. But it’s equally important to set clear timeframes from the outset, otherwise your good intentions could undermine rather than strengthen the positive energy within your team.

The time, effort and resources you invest in people that aren’t making progress can have a detrimental effect on the people you have in the Trust Block. They can, understandably, feel aggrieved that you’re investing so much in others who are less capable and committed.

Drawing a line for some, moving forward with others

There comes a point where you need to draw a line and have a conversation with the individuals who aren’t progressing. For those in the Distrust Block and Respect Block, it might be about moving on. For those in the Affection Block, it might be about switching to a more suitable role. In all cases, it’s about managing people as individuals.

Jan Sipsma is an organisational psychologist and founding partner of Kaya. With over 20 years of international experience as an organisational effectiveness consultant, he specialises in strategic planning, organisational architecture and design, change management, capability and performance enhancement and the identification and development of leadership. He has a Masters of Commerce (Industrial Psychology) cum laude and is a registered member of the Australian Psychological Society.