Insight article

That trust thing

When it comes to successful cascading of information, all paths lead to leaders – how they role-model the actions and behaviours they expect from their teams, how they communicate down the line and how much interest they take in what’s going on at the coal-face. And that old chestnut ‘how to improve middle management communications’ keeps coming back time and time again.

It won’t come as a surprise to learn that people trust their line managers more than anyone else in the organisation – so, as we have said many times before, that layer of management is very powerful. But like dialogue, trust works both ways. Managers need to trust their teams too.

Think about it like a parent/child. If a parent constantly tells the child what to do, keeps the constraints tight and doesn’t allow the child to show he/she can be trusted to do the right thing, to explore the options and prove him/herself, the resulting attitude or behaviour will range from mere compliance to resentment and even rebellion.

In organisations, middle management behaviours so often reflect this ‘telling’ ethos – ‘this is what we need to do, now go away and do it’. Of course, training can be excellent for learning and development, but in some cases can itself also veer towards ‘telling’. Successful development and coaching of middle managers however is all about encouraging them to invite their teams to participate, explore, collaborate with ideas for better ways of working, share responsibility. It’s about involving them in the strategic planning (within a framework), inviting them to take the initiative, listening to their opinions, asking them for their input. This requires a different type of conversation – and it’s not a ‘telling’ kind of conversation, it’s an ‘inviting’ or ‘asking’ kind. Indeed, coaching and development needs to focus on showing managers HOW to go about having this kind of conversation. The ensuing sense of ownership and pride will be palpable, especially if it can be shared across the organisation. This approach will make a big difference to engagement.

Nailia Tasseel