Best Practices: Can Trust Be Taught?

A proactive training program that promotes trust and builds in a sustainability platform will result in higher levels of engagement and performance.

By Neal Goodman, Ph.D., President, Global Dynamics, Inc.

Afundamental impediment in human interactions is the lack of trust. According to Stephen M.R. Covey, author of bestseller “The Speed of Trust,” training programs to promote trust enhance performance and profitability.

Covey explained that trust is the primary factor in selecting Forbes’ “100 Best Companies to Work For.” As much as 50 percent of the value in identifying these companies is based on trust. Covey also pointed out that the companies that make the list out-perform comparable companies by 280 percent in total return for investors.

Training programs that promote trust need to distinguish between trust based on competency (I believe you can do your job) and trust based on character/integrity (I believe you will do what you say). Uncovering the hidden assumptions behind these two factors is critical to the success of any training intervention.

Trainers also must address the factors that affect the propensity to trust. These can vary by individual, leadership, team, business unit, organization, and national culture. Sometimes propensity to trust is a result of historical and societal factors (Can I trust someone from another group?). In some cultures, there is an expectation that everyone is trustworthy until proven otherwise; in other cultures, you are not considered trustworthy until you prove it by your performance. The impact of these differences can seriously undermine the effectiveness of a multicultural team.

A proactive training program that addresses trust and builds in a sustainability platform will result in higher levels of engagement and performance. Trainers training in this area must be able to demonstrate their own authenticity, character, and competency if they expect the participants to trust them with their own hidden concerns about trust.

Unfortunately, trainers often are called in to repair damaged relationships where trust is no longer operational.

Case Study

Three weeks into a three-month project, the leader of a team of Indian software engineers who were brought to the U.S. to work with their American colleagues to build a new software platform for their global, European-based pharmaceutical company decided to call off the project and have the engineers return to India. There was simply no trust between the two groups. To salvage the project, an organization that specializes in building trust in teams was called in, and in 1.5 days identified the factors causing the lack of trust and started the teams back on track to complete the project on time.

In this case, trust was undermined by several important cultural differences. One had to do with the fact that the Indian engineers saw themselves as guests in America and expected to be treated as they would treat guests in India, where there would be much more engagement after work. According to one Indian engineer, “they do not care about us as people; they only want to get the job done. We go back to our hotels and never see them.”

Second, the Indians expected the Americans to oversee all of their work and guide them if they were doing something wrong. The Americans took a “hands-off” approach, assuming the Indians would call on them if they had an issue. As a result, problems that could have been resolved early escalated. In some cases, the Indians completed a task and awaited further instructions from their American colleagues, while the Americans were waiting for the Indians to take the initiative and ask to go to the next task. Each saw the other as untrustworthy.

By holding a teambuilding program built around the meaning and demonstration of trust, the underlying differences soon became apparent to all. As a result, all members of the team agreed on new rules of engagement. The end result: The project ended on time and the leader of the team estimated the savings to the organization to be equal to six months of work.

If you have done any training on the topic of trust and would like to share your experiences, worst cases, or best practices with the readers of this column, please send them to me at, and I compile them for a future column.

Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at For more information, visit

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.