February 2016 President's Blog: Trust

Posted by VPComm on Feb. 7, 2016  /   1

Blog post by PMI Southwest Missouri Chapter President Darin Ellingsworth, PMP, MSPM, ET.

The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) covers many things, 500+ pages of hard skills such as budget and schedule and also soft skills such as communications and stakeholder management. One of the things that is not really covered is trust. Trust can be among team members, between project managers and project sponsors, or trust between vendors and customers. According to Merriam-Webster, trust is belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.

Trust is critical to developing highly functioning teams. I feel that many teams succeed in spite of the trust level that they have for their fellow team mates, sponsors, and customers. Of course with customers the relationship is typically not long or there isn't enough interaction to build a high level of trust but that is what the contract is for. So what about the relationships that are not governed by a contract? Within an organization there isn't a written contract in place that can build trust. Sure, many organizations have required training for harassment and policies that govern that but this is more for a company to protect their financial interests than teaching people how to treat one another, let alone how to build trust within their teams. Trust is something that is earned and not given. It is something that can only be developed over time, a social contract that is developed between individuals. Sometimes, that can be really hard to develop within virtual teams.  

In one of the organizations that I have worked for, many of the people within the organization are spread out throughout the US. Some of the people that I worked with, I have never met in person. There are others that I have only met in person a few times. I definitely have a greater connection with the people that I have met than with those I have not. I have a much greater trust for those that I have met and which I deal with on a regular basis. With them, I have had many phone conversations, been on conference calls with, and have passed hundreds of emails. These are the members of my immediate project team. I have a great deal of trust for these people.

For the next group that I deal with on a semi-regular basis but are not on my project team, I have a lower level of trust. There are only certain tasks that I can trust them to handle. Even though I can trust them to handle these tasks, they still require a lot of follow up to make sure that these tasks are completed in a timely manner.

For those outside this second circle I have a very low level of trust almost to the level of no trust at all. Is this because these people are not trust worthy? By no means. It is because I have very little interaction with them. I haven't done anything to earn their trust and likewise they haven't done anything to earn mine. Unlike these people, the people on my immediate project team have earned my trust. They have proven themselves to be completely competent and trustworthy.

Having trustworthy team members and co-workers is extremely important to an organization's morale. Having team members that you don't trust adds stress and frustration to the individuals in the project team and the organization.

So what's the fix for the trust issue? In my mind, as a manager I need to make sure that I do not promise anything to employees and teammates that I cannot deliver. Find ways to schedule team building activities. I've worked with people who felt as though team building activities were childish and sophomoric and I must say that I have been guilty of these feelings myself. Over time I have learned the value of these activities. These allow team members to trust one another and to learn to work together more effectively and efficiently. In organizations where team members are not co-located there is great value in finding ways for these team members to get together and meet face to face at least once. Even though there is a great expense associated with the travel involved in getting these people together, the trust that is gained through this effort will be well worth the money. You won't be able to directly place a return on this investment but I promise that this is well worth it.

 PMBOK Guide is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.


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  1. Melba Throne

    Aug. 11, 2016

    I'm a little late to the party but I TOTALLY agree with everything you've said Darin. Face-to-face time with team members in Albany, NY, and Galveston, TX, has helped project communications immeasurably. Face-to-face communications and "connecting" with people on a personal level makes everyone more apt to say, "I'm not sure I understand your point" than say "No, that's wrong."



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