How to Build a Trustworthy Staff

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Trust makes the ministry world go ‘round. Evidence of trust abounds in our field: People contribute financially to your cause, they share their lives with you. You trust each other to pursue a common mission and to uphold staff values. Your ministry cannot be trusted by those you serve unless they know you’re part of a highly trustworthy team.

Building trust takes thoughtfulness, character, and time. Here are four steps to improving your team’s trustworthiness this year.

1. Build an above-reproach standard

Your policies and systems are your greatest opportunity to support abundant trust among your staff. As a ministry, you can protect the credibility of your mission with an above-reproach standard of excellence. By submitting everything to your greater purpose, your team’s actions and intentions will become transparent. Your willingness to give up your convenience in the name of safety and security will prove your trustworthiness more than your promise alone ever can.

Being above reproach communicates trustworthiness to the public, but it also indicates trustworthiness internally. Watch your staff’s behavior carefully. ​​Do they speak harshly? Do they post confusing content on social media? A trustworthy team member knows that all their actions should reflect well on their workplace, ministry, and beliefs. Watch how your staff responds to your policies which require devotion to transparency and safety. Do they embrace limitations and rules selflessly? Or do they cut corners? You don’t want to take risks here, and neither should your staff.

2. Implement thorough background checks

One way to maintain the integrity of your growing team is to require background checks for all volunteers and staff. You should be able to personally vouch for each person acting as your hands and feet.

One way to take this a step further is to critically watch your staff members, and encourage them to do the same. Implementing an expectation of watchfulness will guard you when your team starts to get complacent. Encourage your staff to critically watch their supervisors two levels above them and their peers and co-workers a level below them. Set the precedent that with authority comes accountability. Trust watchfully, never blindly.

3. Interview for insight

A particularly thoughtful interview process can save you from headaches down the road. You can start to evaluate if a candidate is trustworthy with thoughtful questions. 

“Describe your greatest weaknesses.” This is a common question, but done right, it’s an opportunity for the candidate to demonstrate genuine humility and awareness of their limitations. A trustworthy candidate may even recognize how their weaknesses affect others, and seek solutions for the strength of the team.

Ask a candidate questions like, “How would you respond if…” “How could [a given hypothetical scenario] be avoided?” Questions involving potential issues allow you to see if the candidate initiates an above-reproach standard. If you notice the candidate already aligns with your standards and policies, it may be because they also align with your values. Instead of asking for their opinions of your policies and values directly, see if you can ask insightful questions that allow them to express themselves. This will indicate early on if the candidate is trustworthy, and also if they’ll fit your staff culture well.

Finally, take full advantage of references. Listen for responsibilities the candidates handled with excellence. A quality reference will be able to bear witness to a trustworthy candidate’s reliability, initiative, and strength of character. Think carefully to determine whether the reference merely approves of the candidate or praises them.

4. Set the example

As a leader, you cannot expect anyone on your team to have a higher standard of excellence than yourself. If you cut corners around rules, and if you make excuses for yourself, you can expect your team to follow your lead. 

Be the first to address your co-workers when a joke goes too far. Correct them lovingly and gently, but be firm in the expectations if you want your team to honor them. Follow through with your agreements. Call out weaknesses in the ministry, and resolve issues as they arise. Model your expectations. If you don’t, you’ll not only lose trustworthiness within your team, you’ll lose your own credibility.

A high-trust team is not built in a day. If your staff is struggling to unite, many factors could be contributing. Seek growth in bite-sized pieces, and take wins as they come. The last thing a struggling team needs is pressure to perform past their abilities.