Peer to peer trust is a key ingredient to activate self-managed teams in organizations. Team members cite existence of peer to peer trust as a top reason for higher team performance. Creating and fostering a climate of peer to peer trust needs focus from the organization.

Why peer trust is important?

The future of work involves setting up self-managed teams which result in faster execution with minimum governance. As we look into the future, we firmly believe that self-managed are the way forward to create an agile organization and solving business-critical problems to sustain the competitive advantage. In our previous blog, we shared our view on how employees’ perception of being trusted by the management is a significant predictor of employee performance and creates an environment where employees go beyond their call of duty to meet common and shared organizational goals. In this blog, we build a case of establishing a trusted peer-to-peer relationship for operationalizing the self-managed teams.

In a recent survey, respondents identified trust with peers and colleagues as a top factor for sub-optimal performance and siloed working. A study found that employees working in a high-trust environment enjoyed their work 60% more, were 50% more productive, and felt 66% closer to their colleagues (Harvard Business Review, 2017). Trust in organisations is built by a micro-level focus on relationships between individuals. Research has proven that building trusted relationships between employees leads to greater predictability of their words and action, leading to lower governance and supervision. To achieve a holistic level of trust, organisations should create an environment to promote trust amongst peers. Peer-to-peer trust facilitates the flow of information through formal and informal networks leading to faster decision making. Scientifically as well, employees tend to communicate work-related ideas and issues to peers more than their subordinates or supervisors. Developing peer relationships at the workplace also provided employees an emotional support and alternatives to traditional mentoring sources.

What is Peer Trust?

We refer to peers as individuals who hold relatively equal power or authority in the organization and are involved with each other through regular interaction. Peer trust can be defined as the willingness of an employee to be vulnerable to the actions of peers whose behavior and actions that employee cannot control. Peer trust is positioned in a horizontal dynamic manner and denotes a distinct variety of trust that is absent in supervisor-subordinate and employee-supervisor relationships. A simple example of peer trust is an employee’s trust in their colleague to be fair, consistent and operate on a shared belief regarding the organization.

Organizations are a web of relationships. In our blog, Social Capital – A strategic resource for leadership, we shared our view on the strength of relationships between employees, teams and business units. When we integrate the two, it provides a coherent case for building a culture of trust which is manifested in the organizations by way of self-managed teams. The micro-foundations of peer-level trust comprise of the following:

  • Consistency, defined as an employees’ perception of their peers being honest, ethical and reliable. When employees perceive their peers as honest, stable and trustworthy, they are unlikely to act against the interests of their peers. A high degree of consistency is often associated with great personal and intellectual strength, inclined towards a powerful motive to act in a logical, rational and acceptable manner. The increased level of consistency in peers is highly valued and drives employees to be more adaptive in nature.
  • Reciprocity: Relationships tend to evolve over time and reciprocity contributes towards building trust in peers as interdependent exchanges. Reciprocity emphasizes interpersonal transactions where an action taken by an employee leads to a response by another. In other words, one employee’s actions are contingent on the other’s behavior. This exchange reduces risk and encourages cooperation amongst employees.

An employee’s immediate social environment comprises of their peers and has the ability to influence their attitudes as well as behaviors. An employee perceives information from sources similar to them as salient and relevant. Thus, the perception of consistency and reciprocity contribute towards shaping an individual’s belief as they perceive their peers’ belief as socially acceptable.

What does it mean for the organization?

In a rapidly evolving business scenario, organisations need to develop and embrace a climate of trust amongst employees to sustain their competitive advantage. For macro-level trust outcomes, it is important for organisations to focus on micro-level techniques to build trust. Peer trust positively correlates with trust in organization. Trust in organizations acts as a mediator between peer trust and favorable organizational outcomes. In other words, increasing peer trust leads to a higher level of trust in the organization resulting in increased organizational commitment and overall performance. The development of peer trust in employees also positively contributes towards reducing job dissatisfaction and turnover.

Conclusion

While the pandemic has led organisations to work remotely, it is important to understand how peer trust can be built within a distributed workforce. Remote working results in decreased social interaction and might leave employees with a lack of trust. This lack of trust might lead to the absence of transparency and the need for communication. To avoid such differences, organisations should focus on organizing virtual workshops that allow their employees to interact socially apart from work and recognize the peers they resonate with. Such activities will allow peers to communicate effectively, share their views and in turn, result in the establishment of trust amongst them.

At Kognoz, we are working on solutions enabling self-managed teams. This requires enabling the micro-foundations of trust and the creation of a climate of trust. We would be interested to know how you are enabling self-managed teams in your organization.