Trust is a key component for making lasting change. 

As crucial as trust is, building trust is hard.

In design, nothing happens without trust. Imagining the future is risky and involves multiple leaps of faith. The organization and the team need to trust you as the designer and you need to trust them. 

How do you create this mutual trust? In fact, you design it. Here are six simple ways you can design trust intentionally in your company.

"Everything is designed, and design is marketing. It shows that you care, it makes the people you seek to serve happier, and it's easier, too."--Seth Godin​

1. Play together.

When you were a kid, you played with other children and through this built trust. It is actually not that different in adulthood. Playing together is key to building trust in one another. 

Play is the mood of design. Because when we're playing we're not afraid of making mistakes. We don't judge, we learn and experiment together. 

My favorite kind of design play is getting out of the office--just like kids who go out to play in the park are getting out of the safety of their home. One great way of doing that is site visits. They take you out of the safety of your office environment and create a mutual learning space for the whole team. Building a prototype together, watching documentaries together, or attending a conference as a team--all opportunities for learning as much as building trust through shared experiences.

Playing together, outside of your comfort zone, builds trust. 

2. Demo Your Ideas.

There's nothing like a demo to build trust. And the lack of, to fester destructive doubts. I learned this first hand when designing the Resolve Office System and an executive had doubts about whether this new system made up of poles (instead of the traditional panels) would look like a sea of trees. The team could've ignored the question. Instead, we built 120 stations out of PVC pipes and foamcore in a warehouse. Together we saw that the experience felt great in full scale and actually strengthened our conviction that we were on to something important.

The practice of fast prototyping is incredibly effective in building trust quickly and minimizing the build-up of a potentially destructive doubt. 

3. Do things in phases.

With trust, you don't go from 0 to 100. Trust builds overtime. 

Similarly, the design process is structured in phases so that trust is built as the process evolves and as the idea develops. As the team goes from research to ideation, from concept to design, from development to manufacturing, and finally from marketing to market launch, the confidence grows and strengthens. It is easy to fail early and restart the process without losing trust in each other. Inversely, you really need to trust each other by the time you're ready to launch a product, a service, or a company into the world. 

Match trust to a process that builds progressively.

4. Trust in failure.

Trust is built through success, but even faster through failure or adversity. This year a family crisis brought me closer to my uncle--I asked for his help and the way he was there for me changed our decades-old relationship for the better. Without the adversity of a crisis, we would not have known the friendship and trust we enjoy today.

When you or the team fails, or are faced with a challenge, how everyone responds to failure is a great litmus test for whether you can trust each other or not. WD-40 CEO, Garry Ridge, sees failure as an opportunity to learn. 

"Leadership is about learning and teaching," he explains. "Why waste getting old if you can't get wise? We have no mistakes here, we have learning moments." Garry Ridge

Failure can help to build deep, long-term, sometimes unexpected, trust.

5. Practice inclusion and empathy.

One of the ways companies build trust with their end users today is by co-designing with them. Co-design creates empathy, an understanding of the feelings of someone else. It also asks for input from users in solving problems, versus assuming how to solve it for them. Both of these contribute to a sense of trust, of being heard and not being taken for granted.

Even companies that co-design with their end users often forget to deploy these tools internally. Putting an organizational problem on the table to solve it together not only builds ownership. It also builds trust.

"Robust co-creation communities empower people so that trust flourishes. Intimacy leads to a better understanding of human motivations; a key goal of design thinking is to gain customer empathy. Moreover, trust between peers in the community is transferred to trust in the institution." Joerg Niessing and Robert Schwartz, IBM Global C-suite Study 2017

Co-creation builds trust by its very nature--being inclusive, practicing empathy and not making assumptions.

6. Break bread together.

Last but not least, trust builds over breaking bread together. Europeans do this well--they'll take you to dinner before they do anything and the conversation will be mostly about anything but work. Dinner is a relaxed affair that aims to find out what kind of a person you are outside of work. If we are going to work together, will we also enjoy each other as people? 

Breaking bread together builds trust and is an invitation to bring your whole self to work.

Hemingway said, "The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them." For times when that doesn't seem to be nearly enough, design trust intentionally.

Published on: Oct 2, 2018