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Successful project management can, at some point, come down to building trust. Can we trust our colleagues to deliver what they’ve promised? Will the schedule on the wall work or can we meet the final deadline? Are the specs that the client gave us going to change? Will the costs go up? Will the organization lose interest in or funding for this project? Can our client trust us to disclose problems, or will we try to hide them from the client? The need for trust is particularly important in the non-profit world, where we rely on large numbers of volunteers to execute massive events.

It is clear that building trust in our teams and organizations is essential. When we work in organizations where the trust factor is low, it drains our energy and wastes time. In other words, it costs money. But do people innately trust others, or does that trust have to be earned? And can blockchain technology help us build trust? The expression – ‘trust me’ – issued as a polite request, or an order doesn’t work very well. Here are 7 ways to build trust on your project teams.

Determine what kind of trust culture your organization wants.

I worked with an organization some years back that repeatedly kept its clients in the dark about problems because they thought: a) the client hired them to solve the problem; b) they were capable, and would do that; and c) they didn’t want to show weakness. Software bugs were never their mistakes. People on teams rarely shared problems because they were expected to be independent and solve problems. The result was an organization where people grew to be fiercely independent.

That may work when the work is of such a size that it can be done by one professional. But when the size of the projects requires a team, it creates a team of people who don’t trust each other.

Management has to decide what it wants. You can’t have it both ways. If you want to develop a culture where teams trust one another, it starts at the top, and filters down to the bottom. If I work with an individual who won’t tell me he has a problem because he doesn’t want me to think less of him, the result is that I can’t trust him. So, what kind of trust culture do you want? 

Encourage open dialogue.

I have written before on the importance of open dialogue – preferably face-to-face. Sherry Turkle, professor at M.I.T., has been researching the importance of face-to-face communications for some time. She has concluded that it builds empathy and encourages more depth.

We need to put our phones away and talk about our problems. Commit to the work that we can do. Hear out our colleagues about what they plan to do. Document the next steps and the decisions. Pay attention to people around the room who may be shy, and not expressing their opinions. Ask others what they think.

If something is contentious, or if a profound idea has been expressed by someone in the room, it may help if the next speaker either repeats the idea or expresses it in a different way – to ensure that everyone understands the idea.

Recognize our own “diminishing tendencies.”

In Liz Wiseman’s book, Multipliers, Revised and Updated: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, she talks about how the most well-meaning leaders can behave in ways that diminish trust. She notes that we all have these behaviors and need to guard against our own “diminishing tendencies.”

It may be senior executives with fabulous ideas, who fail to understand that in their zealous enthusiasm, subordinates may feel like there is no reason for them to participate. As I said in a recent book review, the suggestion that Wiseman posed was to allow yourself only five “poker chips” when you go into a meeting – with each chip being worth a certain amount of time. Once you have spent your chips, you can’t say anything else. (Loc. 1494)

It may be executives who are just trying to help and jump in too quickly to offer assistance on a problem. Others come away thinking that the executive didn’t trust the team to be able to handle the challenge. In that scenario, Wiseman noted that one team came up with a baseball cue, and the executive agreed to not step in until the count was 3 and 2. (Loc. 3167)

Create small wins.

Trust is built over time, one step at a time. Every time your team delivers a small amount of value to the client, or to the management team, trust is built. So, set up your project so that you have these opportunities for small wins.

Every time your team delivers a small amount of value to the client, or to the management team, trust is built. So, set up your project so that you have these opportunities for small wins. Click To Tweet

Invest in team building time.

There are times when it pays to invest in team building activities. I’m not talking about hanging out in the afternoons over a ping-pong table with a beer in hand. I’m talking about the kinds of activities that yield insights into one another’s thinking, problem-solving strategies, and communication styles.

I remember a day on a rope’s course some years back. It was led by a group of professionals with Challenge Discovery in Richmond, VA.  When we left that course at the end of the day, we were instructed to write out our observations on what we had learned. I still have that paper. I learned more about myself that day than on any singular day of my life that I can remember.

For anyone interested in team building, I’ll give a shout-out to Challenge Discovery and its sister company, Signature Team Building – which does amazing corporate programs.

Re-use project teams when it makes sense.

When you have a highly functioning team, it is a valuable asset. Don’t throw it in the trash after one use. I’m not saying that teams don’t need to be periodically refreshed.

When you have a highly functioning team, it is a valuable asset. Don’t throw it in the trash after one use. Click To Tweet

Some organizations have adopted a practice of periodically having project team fairs – like job fairs – and allowing people to choose their teams. Awesome idea!!

Note that people may naturally gravitate to groups they feel comfortable with. While that may be advantageous in some ways, it comes with the risk of losing some diversity. It may be that some people will seek out teams which are working on cool projects, while others may seek out groups where they can hide.

The point is to build highly functioning project teams, characterized by high levels of trust.

Blockchain is the ultimate trust building technology.

I recently listened to Michael Casey discuss his upcoming book – The Truth Machine – The Blockchain and the Future of Everything. Casey is a former WSJ journalist, speaker, and an advisor at MIT, where he is researching “blockchain applications that advance financial inclusion, economic development, and resource efficiency.” (MIT website) According to Casey, blockchain is a social technology that allows us to arrive at a consensus of what we call truth. That’s a powerful idea.

I’ve written several posts on the intersection of blockchain and project management. In one, I said that I see huge potential for increasing the trust between disparate groups of project stakeholders. I see this to be particularly true in large projects that span countries or organizations. I see this trust building with the ability to manage discrete blocks of work, through smart contracts that are properly scoped, with a quality manager assigned. When teams can trust the data reported to management and to other stakeholders, it will inspire confidence in the tool, and in each other.

When people don’t trust, they don’t perform at their best. What are you doing to build trust on your project teams, and throughout your organization? How are you improving your utilization of people’s intellectual gifts? Share your ideas in the comments below.