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Building and Maintaining Organizational Trust: Avoidable Pitfalls and Proven Strategies

Trust is the foundation upon which any successful organization is built. It is the glue that holds teams together, fosters collaboration, and enables employees to work together towards a common goal. However, trust can be a delicate thing, and organizations must be mindful of the pitfalls that can erode it.

Today we will explore some of the common pitfalls that can destroy organizational trust and provide practical strategies for avoiding them.

Lack of Transparency

Transparency is essential for building trust in any organization. When leaders are transparent, they demonstrate that they have nothing to hide, and employees feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas. On the other hand, a lack of transparency can create an environment of distrust and suspicion. Employees may feel that leaders are hiding something, and this can lead to a breakdown in communication and collaboration.

For example, Enron's lack of transparency in their financial dealings led to one of the biggest corporate scandals in history. The company's leadership engaged in fraudulent accounting practices, hiding debt and inflating profits. Employees were kept in the dark, and when the truth finally came to light, it led to the company's downfall and the loss of thousands of jobs.

Poor Communication

Effective communication is critical for building trust in an organization. Leaders must communicate clearly and consistently with their employees, listening to their concerns and addressing them in a timely manner. Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings, confusion, and a lack of trust.

For example, the failure of the Ford Edsel is often attributed to poor communication. Ford's leadership did not effectively communicate the car's features and benefits to their dealerships, leading to a lack of understanding and enthusiasm for the product. As a result, the Edsel was a commercial failure, and Ford lost millions of dollars.

Favoritism and Nepotism

Favoritism and nepotism can quickly erode trust in an organization. When leaders play favorites or hire family members, it creates a perception of unfairness and can lead to resentment among employees. This can create a toxic work environment and undermine collaboration.

For example, the Hewlett-Packard board of directors was accused of favoritism and nepotism in the hiring of CEO Mark Hurd's friend and former colleague, Leo Apotheker. The decision was seen as a breach of corporate governance and led to a breakdown in trust among employees and shareholders. Hurd was eventually forced to resign, and Apotheker's tenure was short-lived.

Dishonesty and Unethical Behavior

Dishonesty and unethical behavior can destroy trust in an organization quickly. Leaders must set the tone for ethical behavior and ensure that employees understand the importance of honesty and integrity. When leaders engage in unethical behavior, it can create a culture of distrust and undermine the organization's reputation.

For example, the Wells Fargo fake accounts scandal is a classic example of dishonesty and unethical behavior. Employees were encouraged to open millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts in customers' names without their knowledge or consent. The scandal led to a loss of trust among customers and employees, as well as billions of dollars in fines and legal fees.

Lack of Accountability

Lack of accountability can create a culture of distrust in an organization. Leaders must hold themselves and their employees accountable for their actions and decisions. When leaders are not held accountable, it can create a perception of impunity and a lack of responsibility.

For example, the Volkswagen emissions scandal was a result of a lack of accountability. The company's leadership knew about the emissions cheating software but failed to take action. The scandal led to a loss of trust among customers and employees, as well as billions of dollars in fines and legal fees.

Practical Steps that Leaders Can Take to Build and Maintain Trust

Here are some practical steps that leaders can take to build and maintain trust within an organization:

  1. Be transparent: Leaders should be open and honest in their communication with employees. They should share information about the organization's goals, progress, and challenges, and be willing to listen to employee feedback and concerns.

  2. Lead by example: Leaders should model the behavior they expect from their employees. They should demonstrate ethical behavior, accountability, and transparency in their own actions and decisions.

  3. Foster open communication: Leaders should encourage open and honest communication throughout the organization. They should create channels for feedback and concerns, and ensure that employees feel comfortable speaking up without fear of retribution.

  4. Build relationships: Leaders should take the time to get to know their employees and build relationships with them. This can help to establish trust and create a sense of community within the organization.

  5. Recognize and reward employees: Leaders should recognize and reward employees for their contributions to the organization. This can help to build trust and reinforce positive behavior.

  6. Provide opportunities for growth and development: Leaders should provide opportunities for employees to learn new skills and take on new challenges. This can help to build trust and increase employee engagement.

  7. Address conflicts and issues promptly: Leaders should address conflicts and issues promptly and fairly. They should be willing to listen to all sides of an issue and make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization.

  8. Be accountable: Leaders should be accountable for their actions and decisions. They should take responsibility for mistakes and be willing to admit when they are wrong.

  9. Celebrate successes: Leaders should celebrate the successes of their employees and the organization as a whole. This can help to build trust and reinforce positive behavior.

  10. Solicit feedback: Leaders should regularly solicit feedback from employees to understand their concerns and ideas for improvement. This can help to build trust and demonstrate that the leader is committed to continuous improvement.

By following these practical steps, leaders can build and maintain trust within their organizations, which can lead to increased collaboration, employee engagement, and ultimately, organizational success.


Building and maintaining trust is crucial for an organization's success, as it fosters collaboration, communication, and teamwork towards common goals. Leaders must be aware of the pitfalls that can erode trust, such as lack of transparency, poor communication, favoritism, dishonesty, and lack of accountability, and take steps to avoid them. By prioritizing trust and creating a culture of transparency, effective communication, fairness, ethical behavior, and accountability, organizations can build a strong foundation for success and achieve their goals. Trust is a critical component of any successful organization, and leaders must be mindful of the factors that can erode it to create a culture of collaboration and success.


Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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