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Whether it’s in-person or virtual, PMI events give you the right skills to complete amazing projects. In this blog, whether it be our Virtual Experience Series, PMI Training (formerly Seminars World) or PMI® Global Summit, experienced event presenters past, present and future from the entire PMI event family share their knowledge on a wide range of issues important to project managers.

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Viewing Posts by Yoram Solomon

Presentation Recap: Tools to Identify and Fix Trust Breakdowns in Project Teams

By Yoram Solomon

I had the opportunity to present at the PMI Virtual Experience Series 2021 on 6-7 October. This global event had over 42,000 attendees and included excellent speakers, virtual exhibits, and networking activities.

My presentation, “Tools to Identify and Fix Trust Breakdowns in Project Teams,” focused on the extreme impact that trust has on the performance of projects. Here are a few questions that I received from attendees, along with my responses.


Question 1: Trust is a fundamental property ? How do you measure it, based on which parameters?


Trust is made of two groups of components: who you are, and what you do. The who you are group includes three components. Competence is a professional, technical component. It essentially measures how good you are in what you do. You measure it by education, experience, track record on previous projects, etc. Personality Compatibility is an emotional one. It measures how compatible our personalities are, for me to trust you (or for you to trust me - those are two completely different things).

Having compatible personalities doesn’t mean we have to be the same. Often, having opposite personalities makes us compatible (you can’t have everyone on the team being inventors who don’t follow through, or have everyone on the team being great at execution, without anyone creative enough to come up with out-of-box ideas). Symmetry is the situational and topological component. For example, do we contribute to the project at the same level? Are we being treated similarly by the organization? Are we facing a common enemy (such as a tight schedule and budget), or are we in a position to compete with each other over promotions and/or bonuses?

The other group of components is the what you do group. We build (or destroy) trust in every interaction. We measure that through the other three components. The first is positivity. How positive (or negative) is what you bring into an interaction with me? How much BS do you bring? How much empathy? Do you behave as if the world revolves around you? Positivity is accelerated through the other two components: time and intimacy. The more time we spend together, the more frequently we interact, and the more timely those interactions are, the faster we build trust (or destroy it, depending on the positivity component). The higher the intimacy of our interactions is (more face-to-face rather than email), the faster we build (or destroy) trust. Your ability to see the consistency between what I say and what I mean determines (among all the other components) whether you should trust me or not.


Question 2: How do you trust others when they don’t trust you?


Of the eight laws of trust, the fourth is that trust is asymmetrical. We often say that “trust is a two-way street.” It is a two-way street, but not asymmetrical one. Think about this: does the pilot of your flight need to trust you to land the plane as much as you need them to land it? Does your surgeon need to trust you to perform surgery as much as you need to trust them to do it? Not so much, right? Trust is relative, and contextual, too. Do members of your project team need to trust you to do their job, be it programming, interior design, pouring concrete, or anything else? Not really. First, as a project manager, you need to be trusted to do exactly that: manage the project effectively and efficiently. Plan and manage it to finish on time, on budget, and according to the specifications. But the trust they have in you depends on six components: your competence, personality compatibility, symmetry (those are the “who you are” components), and what you do during interactions with them: your positivity, accelerated by the time you spend with them and the intimacy of those interactions (from email to face-to-face). If you feel that you are not trusted by others as much as you want to be, first find out why.

What is it that’s holding you back from being trusted by them? Once you find out—fix it if you can. One of the components that is hard to fix is personality incompatibility. Regardless, trust is asymmetrical, and the level of trust you have in a person has almost nothing to do with the level of trust they have in you. You can only do something about the latter.


Question 3: What do you mean by “Make tough decisions” when trust cannot be fixed?


Every now and then, you will find that trust cannot exist between two members of the team (you might be one of them) that depend on each other. It is important to note that where trust matters is mostly where such dependency exists. If member A of the team depends on a deliverable from member B (for the success of the project, not any other reason), then the trusting relationship that matters is whether member A can trust member B to deliver that deliverable. The level of trust that member B has in member A doesn’t matter that much, for this purpose. The level of trust that member A has in member B is more important the more critical that dependency is.

The level of trust that member A has in member B may be low for several reasons. One of the most common reasons is because they don’t have enough experience working with each other. This could easily be fixed by having them spend more time together, both professionally and personally. Another reason could be due to low intimacy in their interactions. This could be fixed by encouraging them to spend more face-to-face time than communicating over email. Another reason could be a possible low competence that member B exhibits. This is a little harder to fix, but it could be fixed as member B continues to acquire knowledge and experience relevant to their role on the team.

However, the reason for the low level of trust could be personality incompatibility. Compatible personalities don’t necessarily mean that both members have to be identical or share exactly the same values. Sometimes, being the opposite makes for good compatibility (“opposites attract”). The problem occurs when the personalities are incompatible in an area, or a value, that is important to both members, and neither one is willing (or capable) of changing. This is a recipe for a low level of trust that cannot be fixed. If it cannot be fixed, you have a simple yet tough decision to make: either you accept the consequences of a low level of trust (miss schedule, go over budget, or not meet specifications), or you remove a member from the team.


I enjoyed being a part of this event, and the full presentation will be on demand through 31 January 2022. Visit PMI Virtual Experience Series 2021 for more details. 

Posted by Yoram Solomon on: October 18, 2021 01:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

How Project Managers Can Build Trust and Improve Project Performance

By Yoram Solomon
Innovation Culture Institute LLC

In a survey of 60 project managers, I found that the strongest agreement (4.5 out of 5) was with the statement “Building trust in the project team is part of the project manager’s role.” The second strongest was the statement “The level of trust in the project team has influence on the project performance.” In last place was the statement “I have the right tools to build trust in the project team.” Research supports the top statements. A 2015 study of 102 projects in different industries found that in high-risk projects, trust had a 45% positive impact on project performance, four times more than authoritarian control. Yet, while risk is well addressed in project management publications, trust is not. The word “risk” appears 2,079 times in PMBOK (6th Ed.), which has a whole 64-page chapter dedicated to “Project Risk Management,” while the word “trust” appears only 45 times. The word “risk” appears 103 times and in the title of 17 terms in the PMI Lexicon of Project Management Terms, while the word “trust” appears there - wait for it - not a single time. It is time to talk about how project managers can build trust, which is also the topic of my upcoming PMI Virtual Experience Series session.

Historically, the field of project management focused on control and coordination of project resources. Only recently, “soft skills” were starting to get more attention and for a good reason. My survey found that 75% of project managers stated that the project team didn’t report to them organizationally, 59% were not in the same group as the project manager, and 21% were not even in the same company. Furthermore, 84% of project managers indicated that the project team doesn’t work in the same building as them, 77% are not in the same city, and 45% are not even in the same country! Under such conditions, it is clear why the existence of trust would be critical to the success of the project, and why you, the project manager, are in such an important position to influence it.

So, what is trust, really?

In this article (and in my upcoming session) I will describe what trust is through the eight laws of trust, explain what makes a person trusted through my six-component trust model, show you a seven-step process to build trust, and give you a tool that will help you build trust in your project team such that you will gain those 45% project improvements.

Over the past 13 years I have observed eight laws of trust:
1.    Trust is continuous. It is not binary. There are different levels of trust required in different situations. 
2.    Trust is contextual. You don’t have to trust (or be trusted) in all areas of life. You (and other members of the project team) should trust (and be trusted) in the specific context of your role on the team. 
3.    Trust is relative. You will not be trusted the same way by different people. In fact, you can be trusted a lot by one person, and not trusted at all by another. 
4.    Trust is asymmetrical. Trust is a two-way street, but one person will not necessarily trust the other the same way the other will trust the first. 
5.    Trust is transferrable. If I trust you, and you trust another person, I may trust the other person based on the trust I have in you and you have in them. 
6.    Trust is reciprocal. It’s not only that if you’re trustworthy you will earn my trust. If I trust you, and I show you that I trust you, you will behave in a trustworthy way.
7.    Trust is dynamic. It changes all the time. Less between interactions and more during interactions. 
8.    Trust is two-sided. The trust that people have in you is a product of their own trustability (willingness to trust other people) and your trustworthiness. There is almost nothing you can do about the former, and everything you can do about the latter. 

The latter part of the last law is why I feel strongly that the building block of trust is individual trustworthiness, which is what my six-component trust model focuses on. So, what makes a person trusted (or not so)? 

The first set of components is made of who you are:
1.    Competence. This is the professional, technical, mostly objective component. You are ranked on a scale from being completely incompetent to being the best there is in your role. In my research, I found a 58.4% correlation between competence and trustworthiness. 
2.    Personality compatibility. This is the emotional, subjective, and sometimes even irrational component. This indicates how compatible your and the other person’s personalities are. You don’t have to have the same personalities, but they must be compatible. The range here is from the universal/absolute values, with universal good and bad (e.g., telling the truth vs. lying), to the merely different (risk-takes vs. risk-averse, introverts vs. extroverts, etc.) in which none is bad, but they still must be compatible to build trust. I found an 86% correlation between personality compatibility and trustworthiness. 
3.    Symmetry. This is the situational component that is driven by perspective. Are you and the other person on the same side or on opposite sides? Is there a common galvanizing mission or challenge, a common enemy, or do you compete for promotions? Are your contributions (and what you get) symmetrical or asymmetrical? Are you treating each other (and being treated) fairly or unfairly? I found a 32% correlation between symmetry and trustworthiness.

The second set of components is made of what you do (specifically, during an interaction with the other person):
1.    Positivity. What is your contribution to the interaction? This ranges from total BS and completely self-centered attitude on one end of the scale to being a “straight shooter” and putting others ahead of yourself on the other end. You should also know that research showed that we respond much stronger (negatively) to negative interactions than we do (positively) to positive interactions. 
2.    Time. The more frequently and the longer you interact with the other person, the more your positivity (for better or worse) affects the trust between you. 
3.    Intimacy. How do you interact with the other person? Is it mainly through words (e.g., email and text messages) or in-person? Research showed that we trust people whose nonverbal communications are consistent with their verbal ones, and we distrust people whose nonverbal and verbal communications are inconsistent. The more intimate your interactions are with the other person, the more your positivity (for better or worse) affects the trust between you.

For this second set of components, I have not yet researched the correlation with trustworthiness.

How does someone build their trustworthiness? I developed a proprietary seven-step process for that:

1.    Identify the relationship in which you want to be trusted. Trust is relative, and every relationship must be treated differently. 
2.    Find out what you are doing wrong that is holding you back from being more trusted. Remember that bad is much stronger than good. 
3.    Identify a new habit that will eliminate that one bad thing you are currently doing. 
4.    Set a Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based goal. 
5.    Measure and log what you are doing. 
6.    Appoint an accountability partner. This will reduce the probability that you will not achieve your goal by 90%. 
7.    Turn this into a habit. This will take time, persistence and, most of all, having your accountability partner stay involved. 

Well, that’s how you become more trusted, but how can you, the project manager, build trust in your project team? For that purpose, I am developing a tool I call TrusTracker360™, based on Google Sheets. I will describe the tool in my upcoming session, and the process is as follows:

•    First, you must identify dependency relationships. Not everyone in the project team depends on everyone else on that team.
•    Find and rank those dependencies from “none” to “critical.” Then, get the trustors (those who must trust) to rank the trustees (those who must be trusted because there is a strong dependency on them). Those rankings are anonymous but will give every trustee a score along the six components of the trust model, as well as an overall trust score, based on a 47-item questionnaire. 
•    Finally, a matrix will correlate dependencies with trustworthiness levels and help you identify critical trust issues where you should intervene and help build trust, or make tough decisions and break up relationships that cannot be fixed. But only if you want to improve project performance by 45%.

Interested in learning more and furthering the dialogue? Join me in Session #406: Tools to Identify and Fix Trust Breakdowns in Project Teams at the PMI’s 6-7 October Virtual Experience Series Event on Wednesday, 6 October.

Posted by Yoram Solomon on: September 02, 2021 01:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

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