Culture of Trust: Imperative for Unit Effectiveness and a Safe Environment

By Lytaria WalkerApril 26, 2023

“Little things that we don’t realize can erode trust. Something as small as failure to follow through on what you say you’re going to do erodes trust,” says Casey Olson, chief of training at the Army Resilience Directorate. Olson has extensive knowledge of the Army’s culture of trust and the ways that the service is trying to improve that culture every single day to create unit effectiveness and safer environments.

“Something like showing up with the incorrect uniform by regulation—nobody corrects you, and then you end up being reprimanded by a leader. It’s a small thing, but things like this can erode trust. You may be thinking that none of your fellow Soldiers were looking out for you.’’ Olson observes that “When you have a shared mission and a shared purpose, and you go through something challenging or difficult, with the men and women to your left and right, it is a lot easier to build that trust.’’

Trust is the core of the Army profession. Establishing, sustaining and strengthening the Army culture of trust are necessary conditions for mission command. There is an understanding that trust is imperative for unit effectiveness and is a foundational element; however, there is still a gap.

New recruits vow to embody the five characteristics of the Army profession: trust, honorable service, military expertise, stewardship of the profession and esprit de corps. Nevertheless, the efficiency of the Army’s culture of trust is still up for debate. The Army profession is defined as “a unique vocation of certified experts in the design, generation, support, and ethical application of land power, serving under civilian authority, entrusted to defend the Constitution and the rights and interests of the American people” (Department of the Army, 2015a, p. 1-2).

A 2018 Gallup poll, “Americans' Confidence in U.S. Institutions,” showed that 74 percent of respondents had a high degree of confidence in the military. This leaves 26 percent claiming to have little confidence.

The Army is working tirelessly to improve the trust factor within the ranks. Olson says that a training titled “Engage” focuses on prosocial behavior. "An example of this behavior is if I offer help to you or accept help from you, then we are building a stronger bond and building trust. So whether it’s something small, like fixing an improper uniform, or something bigger, like taking the car keys from a friend who isn’t in a condition to drive, those things build trust," she says.

Dignity, trust and respect must be exhibited by the service’s top leaders—and not only while on duty but during leisure time, too. Soldiers need to see that example. The training and education the Army provides helps leaders and Soldiers to understand what their actions may mean to other people and how to be self-aware. It also helps leaders to find that professional connection to build trust with their Soldiers. Olson says, “Leaders and Soldiers can build trust by going out into the field without their phone or tablet and instead having only their fellow Soldiers to rely on; this can help build trust. Leaning solely on one another without the influence of social media or email builds trust.”

If you’re interested in enhancing your leadership skills or having your team participate in effective team-building exercises, sign up today.