Navigating tensions around trust

The mass uptake of hybrid working has transformed the role of trust in employee-manager relations – and of all the tensions that hybrid working has brought into the lives of today’s managers, this may be the trickiest.

Gone are the days of office-based visibility of people’s workload and productivity levels.

Instead, managers are having to learn how to trust people and avoid challenging team members’ autonomy by demanding visibility of what they’re doing. This creates immense pressure – after all managers are still responsible for overall productivity – which few are already equipped to navigate.

Many managers are already well-equipped with performance-focused leadership skills. But to build, maintain and even rebuild trust they must augment these with human centric skills. A survey we conducted earlier in 2022 revealed that 30% of organisations identified human-centric skills as a characteristic of successful managers. These “softer” skills are often seen as something that can be learned on the job – but given how critical they are, it’s time for L&D teams – and leaders – to start investing in helping managers develop them in a structured way.

The skills needed to be a human-centric manager aren’t the familiar performance and workflow skill sets previously associated with team leadership. Instead, they include the ability to craft team narratives and create a positive people experience, engagement and trust-building skills and coaching capabilities. Managers also need to be able to provide help when difficult times arise – which can often mean providing training around mental health support as well as workflow management.

For managers rising to these challenges already and looking for proven ways to build trust with their teams, the following strategies can help:

Give people “freedom within a frame” – managers who understand role of time and place and how they influence workflows can offer greater choice and freedom to team members, allowing them to make informed choices about how they want to work.

Be transparent about what is required – techniques like team agreements not only provide transparency, but they can also build trust by giving team members an opportunity to provide input and a sense of ownership.

Measure performance by outputs rather than inputs – this allows managers to keep an eye on productivity, while giving team members autonomy over how, when and where they produce work.

Make time to understand people – building individual relationships with team members, both formally and informally, is vital for creating trust. Crafting time for social events is just as important as one-to-one discussions about progress and performance.

As organisations redesign the way they work, managers have a critical role to play in testing and implementing hybrid working models. With so much riding on their ability to successfully guide team members through new ways of working, it has never been so critical for organisations to invest in their managers.

Our latest HSM Advisory white paper, Making Hybrid Work: Can Managers Do It All?, explores the role of managers further. You can download it here.