The Value of Trust

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Categories: Teams

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.
Posted by Lynda Bourne on: April 26, 2010 08:31 PM | Permalink

Comments (16)

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When I start working with a new colleague, he or she is given a medium level of trust. This medium level of trust, means I apply a medium level of controlling to verify this trust. Is she keeping her commitments? How does he speak (or does not speak) about his actions? Based on the results, trust is raised and controlling is lowered, or vice versa. Interestingly, I automatically assume that my new colleague is doing the same thing. In the beginning of a new relationship, I take extra care of keeping my commitments and making actions extra transparent. After I earned trust, I lower transparency. I don't trust too quickly and don't trust blindly.

Minen Mehta, PMP, CSM, SS-Black Belt
I totally agree. As the leader of the team, I believe that you have start with fully trusting your team regardless if the team members trust you or not. The team will start trusting you gradually only when the team observes you perform. The team is not tested. You are tested throughout the project and you need to produce the value.

Gerald J Leonard

I believe the best way to build trust quickly when working with a new project team is to add value and spend time finding out what your team needs. Trust is built quickly when your team believes that you have their best interest at heart and listen to their concerns. Once they know you understand them they will be willing to listen and understand your intentions and goals.

Seek first to understand then to be understood.


Inderpreet Singh Dhillon
I have recently passed the Project Management Certificate program from Ontario & learned that how much trust you have created is valued in long terms. Building trust needs time but, it needs your inner pureness to much more extent and PMI code of ethics helps you to synchronize your business and personal life's path in a right direction.

Ryan Johnson
I believe most professional levels of trust come from demonstrating a level of competence in ones abilities on the team (to hold one's own), to communicate effectively your reasons and logic for the decisions you make, and managing your project manager's or other team member's expectations for your own work (due dates, deliverables, etc).

Managing expectations maybe more valuable than demonstrating competence, because more often than not (as a private contractor for the government), I found my supervisors often possessed very little knowledge of the job being done; they had to trust what the developers said, and if we weren't able to accomplish a task on time, we had to be able to give a compelling and persuasive reason why.

Interestingly, those who were from time to time overdue on tasks, but persuasive communicators, had little or no loss in trust. The reasons could vary: they may be considered a SME, they may have more degrees in the room than others, but more often than not, they would persuasive communicators at managing expectations.

Circumstances, working environments, business operations were changed for them to meet their own work-style. I often noted to myself that their productivity could have been greatly been improved had the project manager better understood the technical aspect of the job. Instead, the developer[s] did a very effective job convincing the team-leads for the adjustment to meet their work needs.

Larry H
I prefer to use the "trust, but verify" approach in all project relationships, especially if there are significant deliverables at stake. I also like the phrase "Inspect what you expect."

Salman Khan
Knowing about background of personnel in your team can help you a lot with building trust with your team. The sooner they start relating to you is better for the project. Core concept is to find common grounds while communicating effectively and keeping channels of communication open.

Susan Menzies
In the virtual teaching relationship, I notice that the teacher is more precariously placed in terms of trust because the trusting relationship can easily deteriorate.

In running a project management course where students have a set of workshops and then learn "flexibly," trust is vital for effective learning; how can you learn from someone if you don't trust them? The trust can be broken easily if commitments aren't followed through by the teacher, for example, not ringing when promised, not posting information to the web, and showing an obvious lack of knowledge!

Krishna Mandava
As an auditor, I believe in "trust but verify." In my environment, working in teams (auditors and auditees) often brings its own challenges. Although this need not be the ground rule, the relationship usually starts with distrust.

As some of the prior comments indicated, trust takes time and effort. Sincerity is a quality that helps the process of establishing trust among team members easier. I feel that accepting your team members' strengths and weaknesses, providing an environment conducive for ideas and suggestions, and creating a challenging yet not stressful workplace all contribute towards building trust.

Rich Blank
Interesting post, and I recently attend our local PMI chapter where the speaker talked about communication and trust as a PM.

I wrote some thoughts on the subject and how using collaboration technology like SharePoint can help establish trust with teams -- especially virtual ones (while email can actually be detrimental to trust & relationships).

Check it out:

Trust is one of the core value in the delivery of services. I fully agree with Lynda on the impact of trust in making the working atmosphere more friendly between two parties. In my experience where the company itself has earned trust from the supply chain industry, it is imperative that the staff representing the company protects the same image at their own working levels from their day to day interaction with client.

Thomas George CAPM, PMP
Lynda, great post.

As you have mentioned in your post, trust is also key in client interactions. It is not easy to build that trust, but if you have that established, it will make it a lot easier to deal with most of the difficult situations regardless of the complexity of the project.

Building trust can be accomplished by simply thinking from the client's shoes, making the client's priorities yours (genuinely) and providing an accurate update as frequently you had promised. It is amazing that even if the news is not good, the client will respect the fact that it has been provided and it is being treated with priority.

If you have good trustful relationship with all your customers, it would make communications and client buy-in a lot easier, giving more time to focus on the project itself.

Ray Wu (PMP)
The article on trust building in teams is indeed very timely. Research on global virtual teams, typical in IT outsourcing, substantiate the value of trust. In virtual teams, the lack of face-to-face interaction leads to a psychological distance which trust is found to be a good substitute. As a doctoral candidate in management, I found that besides trust elements such as emotional intelligence (EQ) and cultural intelligence (CQ) play another important role.

Eminent pioneers and researchers in the EQ and CQ fields have documented that they are more important than IQ in career success, especially in project management of global teams. My ongoing research in the area has already reaffirmed much of their findings. Currently, I am conducting a survey that includes free professional assessments on EQ and CQ. The survey's preliminary results show that most IT project managers have a science-based education. You are welcome to learn more about the study, your EQ and CQ rank, and what they mean.

Maureen Gan
That's quite a bit of interesting insights and sharing. Managing a virtual team requires constant communication - at the beginning when a team comes together, the manager should take a personal interest in the work of the members. Plan the tasks, share them with other members and be in line with the bigger picture of the project. The manager should prompt the members if there are any issues. And try to help. Have a way to meet with them virtually, to close issues and to move on to the next actions. Trust is a process. It needs people to make it possible. It needs teamwork.

Trust is hugely important in business and management. The best leaders (which of course Project Managers are) should have qualities that make people want to follow them and be able to motivate people into action.

The best leaders use strategy rather than brute force to earn trust and respect.

Apryl Rahr
I think it’s the anonymity factor. A regular reader feels like a part of a community, and therefore, even if they disagree, they’d be more inclined to do so civilly.

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