Developing Swift Trust

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My last post posed the question, How do you manage trust with a new team? Some suggested taking a cautious approach to building respect and rapport. Others addressed the long-term nature of trust developed in a traditional framework.

These are valid, but there's a different form of trust that can also be highly beneficial to project teams: swift trust.

Swift trust occurs when a diverse group of experts are brought together in a temporary organization such as a virtual team created for an urgent project.

It's especially prevalent when the team is required to deliver a result that requires interdependent working and there are significant external pressures. The team has to work out their differences on the fly and "blindly" trust one another to do their jobs simply because there is no alternative.

In these circumstances, team members tend to exhibit behaviors that presuppose trust. Each person knows they're trustworthy and assumes they can trust the others. Therefore, the team simply acts as if trust is present even though there has been no opportunity to develop the more traditional forms of trust.

This is swift trust, and although it can be a powerful force, it is also fragile and easily broken. Activity contributing to the team's common goal, professional behavior and an effective team leader allow swift trust to develop. But it will only last as long as everyone behaves in a trustworthy way.

One aspect of developing swift trust is the presence of recognized expertise. We tend to trust modern medicine and therefore tend to trust doctors. Very few people when rushed into hospital in an emergency want to check the credentials and track record of the doctors working to save their life. They trust the hospital to provide competent doctors to help solve their problem.

Another aspect is a clearly defined objective and clearly defined roles and responsibilities. The key to developing swift trust is interdependent work focused on a common objective. Each member of the team needs the other's particular expertise for the team as a whole to be successful.

Swift trust is not a random occurrence. By understanding the criteria that encourage its development, a manager can create a favorable environment. Then the act of trusting tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

By trusting others we encourage both trustworthy behaviors and engender trust in return. However, as with traditional trust, swift trust can easily be destroyed by untrustworthy behavior. It needs nurturing and support.

The concept of swift trust is not new. There have been papers and books on the subject for at least a decade. But making pragmatic use of the concept on project teams has not been widespread.

If you've been involved in a temporary team under pressure, did you notice swift trust between you and your colleagues, or was it missing altogether? Please share your experiences to help build a better understanding of this interesting phenomenon.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: May 17, 2010 02:04 PM | Permalink

Comments (11)

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Dr.Ahmad Al-Ani , MD,PMP,CPHIMS
"By understanding the criteria that encourage its development, a manager can create a favorable environment."

Again, the project manager has a big role in building that trust and any PM should build (rather than have) such skill since many projects are short term ones involving strangers from outside the comfort zone. Once, we had the presumption that everyone around the table is trustworthy when we dealt with professionals in the field, but as you said, it's so fragile that need continuous attention and vigilance from the PM.

Swift methods of building trust like social activities and team building exercises (even virtually) are very effective tools in achieving that.

Zanele Benya
As a project leader in my experience it is not very easy to just develop trust, but what I normally do is to give the team members easy tasks, and if they show enthusiasm and complete the task without any glitch, I am more inclined to go with that team member with the more difficult tasks. However it is even more difficult to develop this trust when the people in your team are not held accountable because they are just here for the duration of the project and there is no set requirements between yourself as the team leader and the person they report to.

In my project management experience I have often worked with virtual teams and have experienced the fact that each member of the team participates with a common belief that all are experts in their field and thus fully subscribe to this phenomenon.

What I have also experienced is that swift trust or just plain old trust can be greatly affected when participants are from different cultures. Common misundertandings of behaviours due to cultural differences can have a negative impact from the first meeting.

Project managers can play a huge role in bridging these gaps, specially when dealing with multiple cultures.

Wayne M
I would like to hear additional information how to develop trust within a team. One of the areas where I have found it difficult to build trust is with late arrivals to a team. This may occur either because one or more team members were not available until after the start of the project or a core set of members had worked together on previous projects.

From my experience, I would guess that it is about 50-50 whether new arrivals will be accepted into the core group before the end of the project. Has anyone else experienced this? Any suggestions?

Teni O
As a team member, sometimes building swift trust is very difficult. This is because team members, suddenly thrown together, look at each other with skepticism and lack of faith. However, I have realised that when in such circumstances, the best things to do is have faith in your team members, believe in learning from them and ensure that you perform your own responsibilities. Also perform team building and social activities as these go a long way in building team trust. With time, you begin to build trust in them.

Mobeen Khan PMP, MBA, ITIL
As a project manager, one has to elicit trust, for it is not easy to develop trust amongst varied global resources that work on a project. Global teamwork is a reality for thousands of people thanks to technological advances. Programmers in India work with software developers in US and Europe; diseases are diagnosed and treated remotely.

Although technology creates business openings, reliance alone on technology is not enough.Technology does not bridge the gap and generate trust. Human relationships are still paramount for creating trust and maximizing efficiencies.

Swift trust is something that should be handled with a measure of caution. As one who has had the opportunity of leading a Team in executing projects, the single most powerful and to a very good extent effective way to CREATE trust is to be trustworthy yourself, i.e leadership by sheer example.

Once your team members see that you are honest in your work and that you are thorough, they are bound to emulate you.You must lead the way by your own character and exemplary behavior. If you are loose, then they will certainly take you for granted. You must have a certain air of unpredictability as it does not really pay for your team to absolutely know what actions you can take, maybe in the event of someone's misbehavior, be it granting pardon or meting out sanction. This secret is vital for control as people can exhibit unexpected behavior, especially in time of critical project implementation.

The bottom line is that swift trust is largely dependent on the personality/character of the team leader, no matter how hurriedly a project has to be executed.These days especially, we have professionals that are crooks, and so you cannot rely on credentials alone. Constant monitoring is so vital because by that, the strangers you are relating with on the project will constantly get a feel of you.

Pasquale Scopelliti
Thanks for the great report, Lynda!

Reading the previous comments, I can't help but quote the famous "trust but verify" maxim.

Myself, I don't have much team leadership or project experience, my work is one on one. I guess you could call us teams of two, but that seems to be stretching the definition.

Still, in the one on one coaching business, trust, and yes swift or rapid trust is critical. We don't get to use that kind for long, though. Rapidly, we have to earn real or tested trust. That means that any trust-building skill we bring to the table had better head us toward real world victories, rapidly, or we won't survive long enough to enjoy the benefits of trust.

Still again, though, without that rapid trust (the Freudians call it transference) we'd have no risk taking to get us rolling.

Truly stimulating work...thanks again!

David Kohrell
Linda, appreciate your blog posting!

When we researched Swift Trust with Dr. LeRouge of St Louis University in 2005, one helpful tool we discovered was a RICE Analysis popularized by Philip Merry from his work with rural development and geographically dispersed teams.

I just provided a blog post and sample RICE table that may be helpful for Wayne's feedback- the four quadrants of table are:



Sylvester N. Otiji, MUP, MGA-MIS
Swift trust as it is proclaimed seems to be a mischaracterization of what takes place when a group of people briefly get together to perform a task.

Obviously, any member of the group has the option of quitting the group or to stay and work for a reward. Does it mean that one who chooses to stay and work has developed trust of the group? It may be, but most likely not.

May be we should find another name for the word trust being used in this case.

Ian King
I see I have come aross this discussion a long time after it was launched, having just stumbled across the concept of swift trust. I am not a project manager specifically but as a trainer and coach of international teams, I find the topic fascinating. My feeling is that personally I give trust very instinctively, not based on credentials or experience at all. I suspect that this intuitive trust can work even if cultural misunderstandings threaten to throw up walls between team members. I find the thing about assumed competence very interesting, and something which is sorely missing in the national culture I now live in. As for manufacturing swift trust, my experience is that going to some lengths to create a 'safe container' for a team to work in can make a big difference to people's sense of security. This means defining and enforcing a clear framework with the right safeguards, guaranteed by a person with appropriate authority.

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