ROI of Trust – What is trust worth?

Guest contribution by | 03.05.2018

“New work” seems to be the buzzword of the decade. It comes in many guises: “digital transformation”, “business agility”, “eye level”, “new authority”. We want to bring more of the people at work, to deal with each other better. Many methods vie for attention, one principle is common to all: less control, more trust. That seems nice, but what’s the point?

Return on investment

“How do I sell this to my boss?”
“How do I justify a client confidence workshop?”
“I pay the outsiders to work, not to get to know each other!”

I often hear such and similar statements when I talk to people who bear responsibility in companies. Responsibility for ensuring that the results are right, that we deliver on time, that we all get our salary at the end of the month and that we all still have a job at the end of the year.

Interestingly enough, I often meet people who find it good, beautiful, desirable to work with confidence. Unfortunately, this does not happen by decision alone. Trust requires attention, and time. Attention and time that we don’t spend on “work”. When is it worth it? How can I justify it? What is trust worth?

Cost of delay

A useful concept for evaluating trust can be found in another complex problem: prioritising (of features, products, projects). Often we can’t predict how much a thing is worth when we have it – but we can more easily estimate what it will cost us (what we’re missing) when we don’t have it.

What is the cost of no trust?

If we do not – or not very much – trust each other, this has an impact on how we communicate and behave. It affects what we say or don’t say, what we do or don’t do, what we tell whom or not … and how we perceive things that are in some way strange, different, unfamiliar – it determines how we deal with changes or innovations.

Let’s start with the most obvious:


Lack of trust costs time. You can find many examples – please decide for yourself how much these points apply to you. A simple rule of thumb:

Percentage (just estimate) of which the problem is “acute” for you (e.g. “we spend about 20% of our working time in meetings without contributing to the result”) * personnel costs = costs of lack of trust.

Example: Your personnel costs are 50.000€ per month. The mentioned 20% are correct. Then you pay 10.000€ per month for employees who only sit in meetings because … Yes, why? I could sit in the meeting because I don’t trust my colleagues to make a good decision without me. Because I don’t trust that they know what they are doing as well as I do – or what our customers need. Because my boss wants one of us to attend these meetings – because he doesn’t trust the minutes, or wants to mark his territory…

Often it is also completely unclear what the purpose of the meeting actually is – this creates uncertainty and reduces trust. Or it is unclear what is expected of me – should I listen, inform, decide, shape or evaluate?


The less trust we have, the longer we need to make decisions. Everybody has to be informed, wants to be asked, wants to have a say in the direction… And: without trust there is no real commitment, I don’t carry decisions of others in such a way that they become successes – unless I trust that the other way round happens! How often is our commitment half-hearted because we do not trust?


If there is a lack of trust in the workplace, employees will leave. Or – which is perhaps worse – they will resign inwardly and stay… New colleagues will not be able to find their way around as quickly and will take longer to get used to the new job.

What’s the point of trust?

With more trust, our communication becomes faster, more efficient and more effective. We have and use more and better ideas – new things are said more openly and then criticised and improved more directly. If innovation and creativity is important for our business, this advantage can improve the quality and value of our ideas many times over.

Value creation requires cooperation. Trust enables us to work together where it fits and makes sense – not just where it is planned and intended. The flexibility and resilience of our company increases with more trust.

Solutions to complex problems need different perspectives. Trust makes it easier to integrate more diversity – we can deal better with what is “different” than we are.

Overall, this creates more responsibility for the whole. We no longer have to look after our employees: The management is relieved of the day-to-day business – there is more room for more and better strategic work. The potentially greatest effect is probably to increase trust at the management level: Our strategy will be better if everyone is committed to the whole rather than to their own part.

The investment in trust

How much does trust account for in the end result? That depends on how important all these factors are for your business: Innovation, creativity, responsiveness to risk and change, flexibility… In some contexts, benefits in these areas can increase productivity tenfold or more – in other, more “boring” contexts, this may not be the case.

In my experience, it is perfectly “normal” (i.e. common in most companies) for employees to waste more than an hour of their working time on things that would not be necessary with more confidence. So if we invest one day in a trust workshop and then, for example, only half as much time is wasted, we would get the investment back very quickly. And: we can measure it.

Trust is created above all where relationships are built up in a targeted manner and a clear framework for growing relationships is created. Working agreements can be a start, check-ins in the morning or at the beginning of meetings.

I like to use Awareness Maps to build relationships. As a starting point, topics such as mapping the contexts in which we work or visualising trust as it is currently seen in the company or in the team are useful.

A Trust Canvas helps to clarify what trust means to us in general – and provides ideas for measures and metrics.

Retrospectives specifically on the topic, help to create awareness and identify clear actions.

I recommend that we always plan every action in such a way that we can see that it is useful and has the desired effect. Firstly, it gives us a clearer sense of progress, and secondly it allows us to see at any time whether our investments are bearing fruit and whether it is still worthwhile to increase our confidence.

Trust pays off

We can measure certain things quantitatively: how many meetings take place, how many people participate, how long it takes from an idea to a decision, from the decision to the implementation and so on. Other things we can ask qualitatively: how many of your meetings benefit from your participation? How easy is it to admit mistakes or point out a risk?

It is crucial to adjust these goals and indicators regularly. As the culture in which we work changes, we need to change what we pay attention to. Set a deadline for each measurement or question to be checked for meaningfulness – like an expiration date.

Regular reflection can help: for example, once a quarter we look at how much we have invested in trust (workshops, relationship meetings, …) and whether it is worth it, whether we all think that trust is increasing and that it is moving us forward.

Including an external perspective is helpful: my main added value as a coach is to hold up a mirror to the people and the system in which things are clearer than from an internal perspective. Now it is up to you: Go ahead, it’s worth it!



At you will find further suggestions for getting started by Olaf Lewitz.

Olaf Lewitz has published another post in the t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: The viral transformation

The viral transformation

Olaf Lewitz

Olaf Lewitz

Olaf Lewitz is Trust Artist and Certified Enterprise Coach of the Scrum Alliance. In the TrustTemenos Leadership Academy he offers training and workshops on leadership with intention, trust, mentoring and coaching.