Trust appears to be one of the most important aspect of an effective workplace as well as an essential component in developmental leadership. In a global environment with an increasing number of international employees and stakeholders working remotely or geographically dispersed, the way in which trust is built will influence people’s perception of the trustworthiness of the organization and its members in decision making, problem solving and learning and development.
In my academic research about the role of intercultural education in HR practices and corporate training published in 2018, it became evident that building trust for fostering an inclusive diverse environment depends on key values and skill such as: respect, active listening, cultural awareness and sensitivity, as well as different communication and personality types. In order for a diverse team to be strong, it needs to be inclusive. If hiring diverse workforce is relatively easy, fostering inclusivity proves to be more challenging. This is achieved through open communication in which members can express freely how they communicate, how they make decisions; in other words, by talking about diversity openly and finding a creative way to work effectively together.
Trust may affect people’s ways of thinking and communication, as well as their workplace etiquette and organizational hierarchies, all of which may represent important stumbling blocks in international collaborations. Building trust is based on both risk taking and cooperation between all the individuals involved. Showing vulnerability increases trust through influencing, and at the same time, the level of vulnerability shared by individuals needs to be adapted depending on the audience. As many cultures experts claimed, there is a need of understanding cultural differences in trust building in order to avoid violating existing cultural norms to ensure the success of international assignments. In other words, trust needs to be built in a way that is important to that culture. Some common expectations are to: deliver as promised, inspect, and adapt and correct information when required, show openness to relationship building and respect for the person and what they represent, and act in a polite manner, even when you do not agree.
Distrust, on the other hand, permeate through all levels of the business and jeopardize the organization, affecting the relationship between employees and company, causing negative public perceptions, and damaging the bottom line. For instance, promises that are not kept, changing truth which creates segregation and separation, as well as disclosing or using something that the other person thought was told in confidence, all these appear to be the most common reasons for breaking trust in teams. In this regard, what lowers trust in teams in organizations seems to be: lack of effective communication, insufficient cultural curiosity and awareness, lack of active listening or empathy. From a cross-cultural perspective, this may happen due to the unfamiliarity with the host culture that may create a high level of uncertainty, making people feel disconnected and searching for various ways of co-creating and becoming part of an inclusive environment.
Building trust through coaching for better cross-cultural relationships
One of the key interventions required to reduce the trust gap is through coaching and cultural knowledge. Coaching is facilitating a system of relationships, empowering people to feel more connected both to each other and their own self, contributing to the development of highly trustful relationships within organizations, which would lead to a series of positive outcomes including higher collaboration; higher levels of positivity, higher employee engagement, job satisfaction and retention, and more effective problem solving.
First, as a leader, by asking yourself questions such as: “Which relationships around you matter to you? what is your vision? And how do I improve myself as leader so that my team can also improve?”, you will enable the creation of an environment where leadership is about curiosity, safety, confidence, and trust, in which every individual is actively involved in the co-creation of a safe and inclusive space.
Second, when a person of another culture joins the organization, the focus would be on utilizing the curiosity to learn more about the culture that is joining to embrace the power of the new comer to share insights inside the team or group rather than simply adapting to the majority – which usually leads to psychological stress and creates feelings of isolation and unacceptance.
Third, by adopting a coaching mindset, and asking your cross-cultural teams open-ended questions such as “Could you tell me more about this?” “What do you think?” “What could we do differently?” “What other ideas have we considered / what else could we consider?”, using an inclusive “we” will encourage team members to open themselves, motivating and enhancing a positive and inclusive atmosphere in the team itself. Developing social awareness between diverse teams, empowering people to share what they would like to do and know that is normal to make mistakes, is a great way to build trust and keep them on track. Nevertheless, it is more likely that the team members will demonstrate openness, curiosity, and vulnerability if they feel authentic engagement and demonstration of these values by their team leaders or stakeholders.
Adelina Stefan is an Associate Certified Coach designated by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), Intercultural Facilitator, and Personal Agility Ambassador (PARA), specialised in Career Transition, with a strong expertise in HR practices. Having worked for 12+ years across cultures, Adelina seeks to inspire ambitious professionals to create and implement their unique career blueprint and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Adelina specialises in working with ex-pats and mid- to senior-level executives dealing with challenging work environments that can affect both their performance and well-being. She supports organizations in building a corporate coaching culture by highlighting individuals’ maximum potential so that they become dedicated and highly successful employees.
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