by Kevin Parry

Managing trust

PM Psychology

Managing trust
Managing trust

The thrill may be the sense that we are constructing the future and are therefore privy to knowledge that the public or even colleagues are not yet aware of, or it could be that only those in the team know what being in that position feels like.

Either way, in healthy projects this sense of mutual dependency and shared goals unites the team and ensures that people will support one another.

In unhealthy projects where trust is missing, the effect can be no less that corrosive.

In most life situations, we look for symbols of trustworthiness.

These can be the logos of major corporations such as banks or airlines, or the badges of office for professionals like doctors with their certificates or qualifications on the plaque outside their surgeries.

It would be ridiculous to ask to see the pilot’s log book or certificates before we board the aircraft and this principle even applies to tradesmen who arrive in a van with a logo for a certifying body.

We trust those who keep us safe and it is often governments who control standards and bodies who apply them.

In other cases, trust is direct in that it is based on personal qualities that we admire or respect.

Direct trust is a one-to-one relationship and is internal and sub-conscious.

Trust of this kind is fragile and may be built in many instances of the person demonstrating trustworthiness.

The degree of trust then depends on how well we think that we know the other person.

People whom we feel we know well are those whose reactions to a situation in which we could be at risk are, we think, predictable.

For example, I think that my cleaner wouldn’t steal from me even if she found cash at my apartment.

The more we feel we know the other person well and share certain values with them, such as honesty and diligence, the more we trust them.

Even so, I would not trust my cleaner to conduct even a minor operation on me.

Whenever we delegate work or even ask for help, we are demonstrating trust in someone else to do what we need.

In a project or programme team, we are often presented with the need to quickly establish trust with people who were previously strangers.

This is where membership of bodies such as the Association of Project Management (APM) provides the indirect trust basis of shared values (the APM Code of Conduct) and professionalism (the guiding principle of the APM five dimensions).

Team morale

Trust in project teams is like trust in orchestras, the cast of plays or other performing arts or even sports teams.

We need to rely on the other person to do their part, to look out for things that could adversely affect the project and to help us when we need it without constantly checking or confirming their commitment.

This trust is most effective when it combines indirect trust (qualified and professional people) with direct trust, based on observed behaviours.

We recognise expertise, professionalism and confidence as characteristics of people we trust in all fields.

In the case of projects or programmes this enables strong teamwork through confidence that the project manager has a sound approach to delivering the project, has assessed the task and risks as well as being able to define, direct and deliver the work.

Once team members, sponsors and stakeholders trust the team and the leader, then they will suspend disbelief and so achieve what can seem to be impossible and amazing things through projects.

However, constant checking and verification takes time, energy and resources from the task at hand.

In this way, lack of trust is like a brake on the project delivery and is corrosive to relationships.

The management overhead created by constant checking can overtake the energy for leadership and erode the time needed to consider the big picture.

Trust has two functions; firstly, it enables us to focus on things which we need to do while not worrying about our safety, security or health.

This makes us more productive both by providing a distraction-free environment in which to work and by improving our general emotional and mental sense of well being; secondly, it also enables us to rely on others and so to work effectively as a team member or leader.

Building trust

As we have seen, trust exists in two main forms. Indirect trust is given to a brand, a concept or an institution.

People in positions of authority granted by these organisations are automatically trusted and carry the symbols of expertise in the form of uniforms, badges or diplomas.

In its other form, trust is direct in that we trust the person as an individual.

In projects the leadership of the team by the project manager or programme manager is often based on direct trust, since professional status for these roles is still in its infancy.

A critical competence of the effective project manager is therefore the ability to establish and maintain trust from his or her team, sponsor and stakeholders.

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