Project Management Fundamentals Part 6 - Trust

03/11/10 07:48:39 am, by Kris Kelso
Categories: Project Management

One of the most critical components of Project Management, which often goes overlooked, is the "trust factor".  When people do not trust each other, they cannot operate efficiently - period.

Think about all the inefficiencies in our life that are the result of a lack of trust:

  • Large, complex contracts
  • Most laws and regulations
  • Identification systems and tools
  • Security systems and policies
  • Compliance programs

I am in no way suggesting that we can make these things go away.  I'm simply pointing out that a lack of trust makes anything and everything more complex, and therefore trust is a key component to keeping your project from spinning out of control.

There are two distinct types of trust at work within a project team:  First is the trust that a person is capable of doing the job they are being asked to do - that they have the skills and knowledge necessary to complete the task.  Second is the trust that a person's intentions are right - that they are not purposely or selfishly acting in a way that is detrimental to the team or the project.  It comes down to "do you trust that I can do the job" and "do you trust that I will do the job".

Symptoms of a Trust Problem

Two of the areas where the trust factor manifests itself is in project communication and documentation.  If you are sending e-mails and writing documents primarily to CYA, then you are expending a lot of wasted time and energy due to lack of trust.  The real purpose of communication and documentation is to record and disseminate information in order to complete the project successfully.

If you have to double-check everything that a team member tells you, then you are operating inefficiently due to a lack of trust.  If you hold the same meetings and re-hash the same decisions over and over, somewhere among your team there is more than likely a trust problem.

Establishing Trust

So how do you overcome the trust problem?  In many environments there are political, inter-personal, and organizational barriers to establishing trust.  As a project manager / leader, there are several things you can do:

1. Build Relationships. Most people have a natural distrust for people they don't know on a personal level.  Maintaining a "professional distance" from your project team can be a barrier to trust.  Get to know them - find common interests, shared values, and similar challenges that you may have faced.  Learn what motivates each person (upcoming post about this), what fears they have, and what their goals are.

2. Demonstrate Your Experience. Some people believe that Project Management is a skill that translates to any field or industry, and that a good Project Manager can manage any project, regardless of expertise in a particular field.  I disagree, primarily based on the trust factor.

My background and experience is in technology and management, and I have acted as a Project Manager for a number of projects in those arenas.  Technically, I could take each of these fundamental principles of Project Management that I have outlined and apply them the same way to a construction or accounting or marketing project, and I could "manage" that project to completion.  However, there would be a huge loss of efficiency (read: risk of going over time and budget) due to the trust factor.  The team would have no assurance that I will make informed decisions and adapt properly as a project leader, and I would have no real way of knowing if the team is shooting straight with me, unless I do a lot of rework and double-checking of the facts.

Having depth of experience in a project you are managing also means that you can jump in and help when there are hurdles to overcome or the project is behind schedule.  Taking an active role and working along side your team goes a long way toward building and establishing trust.

3. Be Trustworthy. (Seems obvious, right?)  Don't play games, wage politics, or pit people against each other.  Put the interests of the team and the project above your own (but don't make a show of doing so).  Don't have your own hidden agenda if you don't want others to hold on to theirs. Trust is a two-way street, and it always starts with the leadership.

4. Ask for it. Be open with your team about the importance of trust.  Tell them you will be open and honest with them, and you expect the same from them.  Reinforce that expectation (respectfully) throughout the project.

5. Guard it Carefully. Trust is established over time, but destroyed in an instant.  Resist the urge to cut corners, play favorites, or steer decisions to your own advantage.  If you have a team member who is violating the team's trust, call them out.  You may lose favor with that one person, but you will maintain the trust of the rest of your team.  People respect a person who does not tolerate a violation of trust.

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