Trust is a fascinating element of business and relationships. Where trust exists, all that's needed to manage most work is a brief conversation to ensure understanding and a handshake -- real or virtual. It's lack of trust that leads to the constant measuring and checking of performance, writing complex and detailed contracts, and meeting with people.
Trust speeds everything up and lowers transaction costs. As the level of trust goes down, the speed of doing business goes down, costs go up and relationships and communications are largely ineffective to the point everything has to be proved or validated.
Interestingly, it would appear trust is not a fundamental element of a relationship. Relationships can work with remarkably low levels of trust, as long as both people have a common objective, and at the beginning of any new relationship there is little to base trust upon.
Within both personal and business relationships, trust tends to build as the overall relationship is established. It is built over time and is based on your observation of the other person's actions within the relationship. The effectiveness of the relationship progressively improving as trust between the two people builds.
According to Stephen Covey, PhD, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, trust is built on three behaviours:
- Transparency: Tell the truth in ways people can verify and validate for themselves.
- Keeping commitments: Do what you say you will do.
- Trusting others: Extend trust to your team and they will trust you in return.
Trust that has taken years to build can be destroyed in minutes and rebuilding trust is far harder once it has been lost.
The first challenge facing project teams and their stakeholders is to identify a pragmatic level of trust that will allow the work of the project to proceed effectively but to also have sufficient checks and balances in place to insure against untrustworthy behaviours.
The second challenge is to create trust quickly enough to allow the teams to function in the early stages of a project. This is particularly true for virtual teams.
How do you manage trust with a new team of people you don't know well and may never meet? Post your advice and I will combine them with a few of my suggestions in my next post.