19 Feb 2018

Creating an employee-centric culture with an engaged workforce that has a strong connection with their work and with their co-workers comes with great rewards for the organization, for the individual and for the entire team.

But how do you do create such a culture? And what can leaders do?

It’s not about karaoke Fridays or bringing your dog to work. This could boost happiness at work in the short term, but will not make your talent stick around in the long run.

 Building a culture of trust is what makes the real difference.


March 20th we will attend the Happy people, better business 2018 event in Eindhoven and trust is also the topic of the Yes2Trust event in Ghent March 15th where our #dreamteam member Lesley Arens will talk about the importance of trust at HRbuilders and how captain Katrien Devos managed to build trust in her international hybrid #dreamteam of self employed business partners working closely together with colleagues on the payroll. So that’s why - for this week’s Connect With Content - we dove into the neuroscience of trust and management behaviors that that foster employee engagement.

Oh, and if you want to attend to one of those events, be sure to check out these websites:

It would be great to connect with you on these two occasions…

A #mustread article on the subject of trust is the neuroscience of trust, published in Harvard Business Review about one year ago, by Paul Zak. Through his research on the brain chemical oxytocin, Paul Zak developed a framework for creating a culture of trust and building a happier, more loyal, and more productive workforce.

55% of CEOs are convinced that a lack of trust is a threat to their organization’s growth.
It’s clear they know the stake, but how and where to begin?


In an effort to understand how company culture affects performance, Paul Zak began measuring the brain activity of people while they worked and discovered 8 drivers for leaders to effectively create and manage a culture of trust.

He hypothesized that there must be a neurologic signal that indicates when we can trust someone and he knew that in rodents a brain chemical called oxytocin had been shown to signal that another animal was safe to approach. No one had investigated if this was also the case with humans. Oxytocin appeared to do just one thing: reduce the fear of trusting a stranger. And so he spent the next 10 years running experiments to identify the promoters and inhibitors of oxytocin.

This research explained why trust varies across individuals and situations, he found that high stress is a potent oxytocin inhibitor and that oxytocin increases a person’s empathy, a useful trait when working together in diverse teams as we encounter in today’s workplace.

By measuring people’s oxytocin levels in response to various situations—first in the lab and later in the workplace, Paul Zak identified eight key management behaviors that stimulate oxytocin production and generate trust: (1) Recognize excellence. (2) Induce “challenge stress.” (3) Give people discretion in how they do their work. (4) Enable job crafting. (5) Share information broadly. (6) Intentionally build relationships. (7) Facilitate whole-person growth. (8) Show vulnerability.

Managers can cultivate trust by setting a clear direction,
giving people what they need to see it through, and then getting out of their way.


You can read the whole article and find out more about those 8 key drivers via this link or watch this video

When looking for good stuff to read on trust, we personally like the work of Patrick Lencioni and especially, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ in, which he describes the 5 dysfunctions of a team and he uses this pyramid to show the levels:

  1. Absence of Trust: The fear of being vulnerable with team members prevents the building of trust within the team.
  2. Fear of Conflict: The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive ideological conflict.
  3. Lack of Commitment: The lack of clarity or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they will stick to.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability: The need to avoid interpersonal discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable.
  5. Inattention to Results: The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success.

A lack of trust prevents a team from true commitment,
accountability, and results.

Only teams that are willing and able to address these five dysfunctions will become high performing, cohesive teams and according to Lencioni this means that they are comfortable asking for help, admit mistakes, take risks offering feedback, tap into one another's skills and experiences, avoid wasting time talking about the wrong issues and revisiting the same topics over and over again, make higher quality decisions, accomplish more in less time and fewer resources, put critical topics on the table and have lively meetings, align the team around common objectives and only that way they will be able to retain star employees.

Here are some bestselling books on trust if you’re eager for more:

  • Trust Works! By Ken Blanchard: High trust = lasting relationships
  • The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey: High trust = high-performance
  • The Trust Edge by David Horsager: High trust = foundation for genuine success
  • Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek: High trust = Circle of Safety

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them

It’ s a quote by Ernest Hemingway but also a quote that we at #HRbuilders live by since we read Brene Brown’s book on vulnerability in 2013. Our colleague Lesley Arens even got the chance to meet her when she attended ATD in 2016 in Denver. 

 Trust is like a marble jar

That's what Brene taught Lesley when talking about her 9-year-old daughter’s teacher who kept a jar in her classroom and each time the class did something positive, a marble went in the jar. Treat each other with respect = marble in. Tell the truth, or defend a friend on the playground, marble in. If the class misbehaved, or didn’t pay attention = marbles came out. And if the marble jar was filled to the top, there was a celebration.

The marble jar is a great metaphor for the quality of relationship, trust and respect for one another.
Brené suggested in her book that the idea of a marble jar can also represent the small ways that we choose to trust someone (or not). Trust happens in the smallest of moments, and in the same way we can either deposit a marble and build up our sense of trust or remove a marble. When someone shows genuine concern, acts reliably, we deposit a marble. We sometimes even add big marbles when someone challenges me or helps us to grow. If someone betrays our confidence, fails to follow through, or does not genuinely cares for us our the team that he/she is part of, but only for him or herself, we remove a marble.  And we take out big marbles when someone lies to me or cheats on me.

You can watch the story on the marble jar via this link - Brene’s talk on vulnerability is available via this link. 

We'd like to conclude this week’s Connect With Content with this quotation from ‘Connecting the dots’

The ability to build and sustain high levels of trust and engagement has become a critical competency for today’s leaders. In our technology-fueled, digitally connected world where new products, competitors, and business models seemingly emerge overnight, one of the few competitive advantages organizations possess is their people. The skills, talents, creativity, innovation, and passion of its people can be the difference between organizations achieving exceptional performance or wallowing in mediocrity. In order to come out on the winning side of this challenge, organizations must connect the dots between trust, leadership, and engagement.

 Trust is the foundation, leadership is the driver, and engagement is the goal.
Have a great week!

And why not start using marble jars yourself?

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Written by

Lesley Arens

HR Matchmaker & Public Relations at HRbuilders

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