Building Trust

Catherine Burger, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC | Updated/Verified: Aug 29, 2023

In my 33+ years in healthcare, the WORST working conditions I have experienced have been when there is no trust among the team. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked in some pretty horrific settings, but it was manageable if the team knew they could rely on one another. Trust is THE cornerstone of team building and essential for leaders to cultivate.

Building trust within a team is crucial for achieving success and creating a positive work environment. Here are some tips to help foster trust among team members:

Lead by Example

As a leader, it’s essential to be transparent, honest, and reliable. Share what you can, when you can. That being said, there are times when you must hold confidence for information related to investigations, etc., or organizational plans that you are not allowed to divulge. Your staff must trust that you provide them with as much information as possible.

Communicate Effectively

Encourage open communication and active listening among team members. Not everyone processes information the same way, so ask. Some people prefer email, some prefer information in a staff meeting, and some prefer one-to-one direct (which is not always possible!). I typically communicate to the group via staff meetings or huddles, follow up with an email to everyone, and then (try) to connect directly with the staff I believe will need that extra touchpoint.

The Point Is It's the Leader's Job to Make Sure Everyone Feels Heard and Understood.

Collaborate and Share Responsibilities

Let’s be honest; you cannot seek the staff’s input on ALL decisions. But you should collaborate with them for 99% of the projects within your department. The people who do the work have the answers. As a leader, it’s your job to tap into their knowledge and guide them toward creating sustainable change. Working together towards a common goal can help build trust and respect among team members.

Be Respectful and Empathetic

Truth bomb: This can be a tricky question for a leader as we are still human and fall prey to our emotions. When Nurse Nancy calls out for the third Monday this month because her “cat seemed sad today,” you have to call upon everything holy inside you not to scream into the phone, “I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR CAT – GET YOUR BUTT INTO WORK!!” Nope, you reach deep inside yourself, inhale a cleansing breath, and respectfully (although through clenched teeth) inform Nurse Nancy, “I am disappointed that you are calling out today. I will set a meeting for us to discuss your recent absences when you return.”

Treat others with respect and show empathy towards their feelings and opinions.

Acknowledge Mistakes and Take Responsibility

Taking responsibility is the cornerstone of trust when working in teams. Set the tone of the department of support and learning through mistakes and errors by owning the ones YOU make as the leader. Acknowledge, apologize, make amends, and move forward. This is challenging in an environment of medication and patient care errors where we want staff to report mistakes and, at times, hold them accountable (after a complete investigation).

The Culture of Responsibility and Accountability for Errors Starts With Leadership

As trust is the cornerstone of a highly functioning team, the leader is the footing upon which that trust is constructed. A strong foundation of trust within your team leads to better communication, collaboration, and success in providing safe care and services for our patients, their families, and the communities we serve.


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