Project Management

Eye on Trust: Openness

From the Eye on the Workforce Blog
Workforce management is a key part of project success, but project managers often find it difficult to get trustworthy information on what really works. From interpersonal interactions to big workforce issues we'll look the latest research and proven techniques to find the most effective solutions for your projects.

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You may have heard, like I have, that openness can build trust. But what kind of openness exactly? Certainly, you can share "too much information" about yourself. You can share the wrong things. That would not help build trust necessarily. It may make things worse, in fact. And there is confidential information you are provided about a project that you cannot share.

So, the question remains, exactly what do you share to build trust with openness as a project manager? Paul Zak, the expert who studies these factors in the workplace and whom I mentioned in the last post on job crafting, has guidance for us.

The technique of openness is how you share information broadly throughout your team. Your actions should enable the project workforce to see that you are providing needed information in a timely fashion without being manipulative. Here are some ways to do this in your weekly team meetings or daily agile meetings.

  • Early in the project, paint the big picture about project savings and value to the business.
  • Include a specific point where you give updates on what you have heard from reliable sources about what may be happening, about what leadership is thinking about any changes to the foundation to your project for example.
  • Roll out information on risks, update on resolving issues, status of action items you or others are completing. Explain how the work does or does not affect them directly.
  • Help a downstream project team get a head start by making upstream information a little early.
    Example: Make draft versions of the BRD available to designers and developers. Sometimes project teams seem to see themselves as artists who must not show their work until it is final, but you can calm them by stating to the downstream teams all the warnings about making assumptions on unapproved versions. 
  • Actively go after useful information from your sponsor. Your communications with your sponsor should not just be you providing updates, but you should collect useful information to pass on to the team. Keep a list of questions that you rotate through when you speak to the sponsor to confirm
    • assumptions are still the same
    • scope is still the same
    • if expectations are still the same
    • If there is any news about the project or program
    • if the priority is still the same
  • Include stakeholder updates in your meetings that go beyond the basics. Remind participants of the point of view of the stakeholder, for example: priorities, desired dates for key events, desired level of participation in routine work and anything else that will improve interactions between the team and the stakeholder.
  • Stakeholders can provide additional information on upcoming obstacles and conflicting activities.
  • You'll want to then check on what part of this information you can provide to the project teams and then plan to provide that information in your next meeting. In your team meetings, you can explain how these impacts the project. Team members can then respond appropriately without it being an emergency. You can see how team members will trust you more.

You don't have to be a project manager too long to hear things like

  • "Our team does not have the ability to adjust to this latest added effort the way you are requesting."
  • "I'm just hearing about this now and will have to get back on you with how it affects our work schedule, but there is going to be a significant delay."
  • "Seems like we are always last to hear about these changes and then are asked to immediately squeeze more work into less time."

These comments are signs that workers do not have a good reason to trust you and the process, and if they do not have trust they will not be engaged or able to participate fully and give a little extra when needed. They are headed for burnout.

When you don't check for useful information you leave out opportunities to build trust, and then you do not have trust when you need it. So, create your standard agenda or meeting preparation checklist to include sections on

  • Sponsor updates
  • Stakeholder guidance
  • Organizational news from reliable sources/peers/PMO/functional organizations
  • Risk management updates
  • New draft versions available and how to get them

You can think of your own ideas that fit in your situation.

When project team members understand that they are getting a broad communication of information, they have more trust in the work environment where they work. If we get this right, he explains that trust improves engagement and engagement improves performance in your project.


What has been your experience in work cultures where there is more openness or where information is more restricted?

Posted on: January 20, 2019 11:02 PM | Permalink

Comments (11)

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Excellent article.
Thanks a lot!!

Great points! Thanks, Joe. Effective decision making is led by the availability of information. Having an open culture allows for information to be absorbed, internalized, and realized by the individual themselves, and not dictated through another's viewpoint.

Thank you, Joe, these are excellent recommendations for communication.

I've found that in organizations that are more restricted with information projects tend to take a lot longer and are less successful than in those whose work culture is more open. I think it's because the more open and communicative an organization is, their willingness to change and grow increases.

The context in this post is an authorized project in progress.

Part of the posted section is pasted below:
“Keep a list of questions that you rotate through when you speak to the sponsor to confirm
1. assumptions are still the same
2. scope is still the same
3. if expectations are still the same
4. If there is any news about the project or program
5. if the priority is still the same”

First, note that I changed the ‘bullets’ to ‘numbers’ for ease of reference.

For points 1, 2, and 3., if they are not “The Same,” contract provisions for “Scope Change” or “Extra Work” kicks in.

Here, I do wonder why one would go back to the formative part of the project’s scope, schedule and budget given that interpretation became the basis for the contract itself.

For example, if the project’s client did, in fact, decide to revisit the project’s assumptions, scope and expectations, depending on the magnitude of that client decision, according to the contract’s terms and conditions the project might be

waaaw... thanks for your important information you are feeding us with on this.

Spot-on, Joe. Thank you for sharing.
Cross-functional visibility, integrity, and collaboration are important.

Dear Joe
Interesting your perspective on the theme: "Eye on Trust: Openness"
Thanks for sharing

Important point to keep in mind: "When project team members understand that they are getting broad communication of information, they have more trust in the work environment where they work. If we get this right, he explains that trust improves engagement and engagement improves performance in your project. "

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