The trust factor to drive high-performance

The most successful teams have one thing in common. Trust.  They develop trust from the outset. They nurture it. They foster it. But many organizations are yet to see the value of creating trust within the workplace. They experience poor performance tend to overly focus on changes to the business strategies, products/services, organizational systems, etc. Quite often they underestimate the impact of trust on their results. In the new episode of “The World Class Leaders Show”, we welcome Paul Zak to discuss his best-selling book “The Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies” and how to use trust to inspire teamwork, build a loyal client base and accelerate business outcomes.  Paul Zak, is a Professor of Economics, Psychology, and Management at the Claremont Graduate University. He is a top scientist in his work across the globe, owning 4 technology companies, including the first Neuroscience As A Service (NAAS). He is a five-time TED speaker and has spoken at large organizations such as Nato Supreme Head Quarters and Google.

The role of trust in the workplace

Trust has been described as the commitment to cooperate before knowing how someone else will react. Science, however, has proven that as humans, we are biased in how we trust.  People decide whether they trust you or not based on your character and will be mapped into their neurological behaviors and will then promote their reaction.  “Trust is a set of behaviours. It’s not a feeling state.” This is because we are social creatures, and interaction, like the work environment, comes very naturally to us. On the other hand, high levels of stress at work always inhibit the neurologic mechanisms of trust. For example, if you reprimand an employee in the incorrect manner it can enable a pain response which will inhibit their ability to develop trust and be a successful team member. If stress has a negative impact on trust-building, there are other factors that can inhibit trust in the workplace.  In particular, Paul has noticed that trust doesn’t kick in neurologically when there is not enough motivation and big goals. In fact, the mechanisms that allow us to draw the social resources to work together, require some goals, some milestones to hit.  As a leader, you need to find a balance between pushing too hard and asking too little.

Why is difficult to trust others, especially remotely

It’s a safety reason. Our primary concern is to survive and this leads us to be overprotective of our wellbeing. This leads us to overly focus on the negatives and potential risks.  Paul suggests understanding first how oxytocin works. Oxytocin is the trust neurochemical. It is a hormone that acts on organs in the body and as a chemical messenger in the brain, controlling key aspects of the reproductive system, including childbirth and lactation, and aspects of human behaviour. Paul tested the relationship between oxytocin and trust with 10,000 people globally. He found that about 92% of tested people have an intact trust system.  This means that when we see bad behaviour, it’s often just good people having a bad day. They’re likely coming into work, just wound up. So they’re beyond the ability to release oxytocin to connect to others but most of us commit what’s called the fundamental attribution error. We think they turned into bad people. Here’s why you need to make so-called “emotional check-in” with your people before lashing out at them. Ask them how you can help them to deal with the current situation. Offer time off for example. These simple behaviours develop more oxytocin. When this is in place, people want to work more together, and leaders should take advantage of this social drive in their organization to build high-performance teams. You can build oxytocin remotely too by learning how to communicate and create a bond online. You won’t achieve the same level of interaction with people who are physically present but you can get closer to it by:
  • Having regular emotional check-ins 
  • Encouraging continued commitment to the purpose of your organization 
  • Supporting your team so they can in turn support you 

Celebrations and social interactions in the workplace

Going back to the office is a massive opportunity for people to build emotional connections. The best way to do this is to create an environment where people want to participate. This can be done through office design changes, incentivized projects, like catered lunches for example.  People who interact with colleagues are more productive because they know where to find support.  Finally, it’s important to build opportunities to celebrate more as a team as it creates a sense of happiness and rewards for all colleagues. 

How to build high-performance teams

You need to create relationships with the people you work with to have successful interactions and make it easier to work together towards the same goal. Your language with your people is important to create an environment where you can form part of the team You need also to provide people with the autonomy to be innovative and productive. This allows people to make experiments, mistakes and learn from them.  “If we’re living in a mistake-free world we are also living in an innovation free world” Make sure your team is trained extensively and then delegate the tasks generously amongst them.  Your role is to support so your people don’t become overwhelmed or overstressed. Be accessible to your people so they know who to turn to when they need guidance or help. You are there to help brainstorm and encourage them to find solutions for the problems they are facing being open to changes of the traditional way that things are done. 

Creating trust with clients 

You need to have a positive social interaction by trying to tune into their humanness rather than trying to sell them a product.  Start off by providing a new dialogue where you display that you care about the success of your client first. For example, ask them what problem they are trying to solve and how you can assist them to find a solution. “Listen twice as much as you talk so that you can always be of service to the client.” You can apply the same principles for communication whether it is online or face-to-face. The key is to have the client immersed.  This approach requires skill, time, and patience.  Your goals should be:
  1. Build trust with your clients so they become clients for life.
  2. Create an experience that clients are hooked on to create brand loyalty
  3. Coach your colleagues to be present in their decision-making process
Point 3 is very important. A stress response from a possible client will create a negative connotation and they will not come back. The opposite is true if your colleagues are trained to create an exciting response, which will create customer satisfaction and hold their interest.  “Experience is a sticky thing to play around with and can be built on to create longer interest and in turn income for the business”

The neuroscience behind it all

When working with colleagues or clients there are ways you can use neuroscience to your benefit:
  1. Be present – this will be the production of dopamine by capturing attention. Also, provide a reason to interact. 
  2. Be caring – make a connection and the desire to be of service to your clients
  3. Attention – come into the conversation with meaning and a reason to interact
  4. Lastly, end everything with the word ‘service’ – the connection is valuable in showing that you are interested in creating and building relationships with people. 
Before ending the conversation, I asked Paul the traditional closing questions:  What is the number one thing you learned in your career? I would say the best advice I ever got was in an undergraduate investments class, in which the professor said, “The best rule of investing is to pay yourself first.” It means because investments are compound, you have to organize yourself. Even if you cannot pay your car, insurance bill, (whatever your commitments are) they will wait. You have to invest in yourself and know what your priorities are. That also means saying no to a lot of things that might be fun, that is not moving your agenda forward by empowering yourself to say no. It is not selfish; it is selfless to do that.  What is one thing that you might have done differently in your career?  I tend to be a risk-taker. I think when I was younger; I was not as comfortable killing projects earlier. However, I have gotten better at that because now I have the mentality of; “I hired you so I bear the responsibility.” By just being honest with good people and letting them know that they are not fitting in the organization will be better in the end. Cutting things earlier is a good thing. To save yourself the time you need to cut out the stuff you do not need. Spend the time and attention on something else if it is not producing the level of results you anticipated. Be invested in what has value for you. What was in place for you when you had your best performance?  I suppose there was trust. There was an amazing team of people.  It is such a pleasure to have someone you have known your entire life and to build work with these people. Therefore, when I look at the real triumphs, we have had from a research perspective and a business perspective; it has been with the people that I honestly love.  I think it is about really building the right teams. It is hard in the beginning, being young and inexperienced, but over time, you figure out how to put the pieces together and find the right people.  What is another book that made a big impact on your life or your career?
  • My top choice is “Experience Economy”. 
  • One of my favorite ‘Big Idea’ books is “Consilience – The Unity of Knowledge” by Edward O. Wilson, about how science underlies everything we do with the arts and humanities. 
  • Lastly, I love the “Rational Optimist” by Matt Ridley, about how the world is getting better, but we just do not see it because we focus on the negative. 
To connect with Paul Zak, you can connect with him on Linkedin: Or have a look at his studies at:  Or you can head over to his work at: Listen to the full episode at: If you want to receive our weekly insights via email, subscribe today at:
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