Trust is the building block for gaining the respect of your staff, creating positive work relationships within your team, and enabling staff to handle stress and uncertainty in the work environment. It may be tempting for new IT managers to assume that trust will develop naturally toward their leadership. However, effective managers don't take trust for granted. They give high priority to the development and maintenance of trusting relationships within their work teams.
A variety of conditions and factors can contribute to trust. Four of the most important are credibility, integrity, reliability, and commitment.
It is essential for you to build a reputation for being a credible source of information and support. You may not be in a position to be an expert at workplace dynamics, especially if you are a newcomer, however, you can establish your credibility among team members by showing an understanding of, and interest in, their work issues, demonstrating technical expertise in your field, and being respected by your peers (people at your level within the organizational hierarchy). Line staff will tend to feel more comfortable, secure, and trusting when they perceive that their manager or team leader has credibility within the organization.
Integrity involves the adherence to ethical values and practices. Team members rarely trust managers who are evasive and do not seem committed to the team's best interests. Managers without integrity may be perceived as manipulative, basing their decisions and behaviors on fulfillment of personal agendas. Managers who show staff that they have strong ethical standards and values and are willing to behave in ways that support them will foster trust within the team.
Managers who behave inconsistently can create considerable confusion and discomfort among team members. Effective managers will tend to behave in consistent ways because they are anchored in their beliefs and their vision of what is best for the team. Your staff may not always appreciate the ways you react to situations and make decisions. But if they can count on you to be consistent in your approach, they will feel more comfortable and be more willing to trust you.
Team members will trust a manager who is committed to them as individuals and to the success of the team and who is willing to sacrifice time and energy to make things work as well as possible. Managers often lead by example, and a strong sense of commitment can be contagious. Commitment can include showing interest and empathy in your staff, being willing to address—rather than avoid—problems and issues, and demonstrating the ability to articulate your vision for the team and stick by it the best you can.
An example scenario
This scenario may help to highlight some of the factors contributing to a trustworthy manager-employee relationship. Mary is a new IT manager with a marketing firm in the Northeast. She is responsible for maintaining a LAN with 100 users and has a staff of five people.
Mary inherited a difficult situation. The LAN team has developed a poor reputation within the organization because of inconsistent service and poor customer relations. Other teams within the organization openly ridicule the IT group, and communication channels between the team and other groups have broken down.
Although Mary was feeling intimidated by the formidable challenges her new job presented, she also believed that the situation offered significant opportunities. She met with the human resources director to gather information about her team and the service problems and to ask for advice. The director provided some history of the issues and then advised her to find ways to build trust among her team members and the LAN users.
He told her to start this process by demonstrating her commitment to improving the situation. Mary thought about what the director had said and then developed her strategy. She met with the managers of other groups and units within the organization who used the LAN and established a dialogue with them about the problems and possible ways to improve her team's service. She also pointed out that the ridicule she heard directed at her staff was counterproductive and requested that they work with their staff members to be more positive and supportive.
Mary met with her staff often and worked hard to demonstrate her understanding of their issues and her willingness to commit time and energy to improving their situation. She shared her vision for the team and solicited their feedback on how service could be improved. Mary remained sensitive to problems and issues that arose and addressed them proactively.
Over time, the LAN service began to improve, as did her team's morale. Team members and LAN users had grown to trust Mary as someone who was committed to improving their work lives and who could be counted on to resolve problems.
The moral of this story is that Mary gave high priority to the development of trusting relationships with her team members, as well as LAN users. She was able to bridge the communication gap between her team and those who used the LAN and to build everyone's confidence that the service could improve. She demonstrated that she would support her team when users spoke badly of them, and she established performance expectations that were clearly articulated to her staff.
Trust is generally something that is earned over time. You can build trust by demonstrating that you are guided by ethical standards and beliefs and then by exhibiting behaviors that are consistent with those standards and beliefs. You should demonstrate an understanding of problems and issues and a willingness to become involved in their resolution. It is also important to show trust toward staff to receive it in return. Building trust can be difficult, but it's much easier to lose it through inconsistent behavior and lack of commitment to your staff and your work.
To learn more about the importance of trust to the success of managers, check out Trust in the Balance: Building Successful Organizations on Results, Integrity, and Concern by Robert Bruce Shaw (1997) and The Trusted Leader by Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau (2002).
New manager questions
Steven Watson has 10 years of IT management and consulting experience and has developed an understanding of how the issues faced by IT managers differ from those of their nontechnical colleagues. As a new tech manager, do you have a question you'd like him to address? Send it to us via e-mail or post it in the discussion below.