Employee Relations

Improving Trust Among Coworkers: Start with the Leader

Team-based work remains increasingly popular in organizations. This type of work structure can be beneficial for organizations because employees with different strengths can be pooled together to increase productivity. Because team-based work is contingent on effective interpersonal relationships, trust between co-workers is extremely important.  New research has shown how important leader trust is for increasing trust between coworkers.

Why Co-worker Trust is Important

Trust among co-workers has several benefits for organizations: Trust increases effectiveness of team-based work. When co-workers trust one another, they are more likely to collaborate and cooperate within the work group, which increases efficiency and improves team decision-making. Employees are more willing to do their best. In team-based work, rewards are often distributed to the whole group; employees who trust one another are willing to work harder, because they aren’t concerned with certain team members not “pulling their weight” or taking credit for work that they did not do. Employees are more willing to help one another. Employees who trust one another are more willing to help each other, because they know the behavior will be reciprocated in the future.

How Leaders can Influence Coworker Trust

Group and team leaders often serve as role models for members of the group. When a leader of a work group shows trust in an employee, co-worker trust of the employee also increases. In fact, a leader’s influence over co-workers’ trust of one another is stronger when group performance is low. Although this may seem counterintuitive, members of low-performing groups have more at stake and are less secure; because of this they are more likely to follow the example set by the group leader.

Practical Advice

It is important that organizations help team leaders develop awareness of the effects that their perceptions can have on the opinions and behavior of group members.  This is especially important when group performance is low.  Group leaders should use their influence to help foster cooperation and collaboration among team members.

Interpretation by:

Michelle Toelle

The DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Lau, D. C., Liden, R.C.. (2008). Antecedents of Coworker Trust: Leaders’ Blessings. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93 (5), 1130-1138.