The project team is a very stressful environment to be part of.  As we navigate through change that we are trying to implement or transform organizations we have to worry about resistance from stakeholders and attacks from antagonists.  We often build work groups by bringing together team members from different departments or even organizations, so it is natural that we don’t launch the project with a whole lot of trust between team members.  Trust is earned and as such it takes a while for team members to extended as they get to know one another and figure out each other’s motivations.

I was talking with a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago about this issue and he made an interesting statement.  He said that when it comes to business ventures he wants partners and team members that he would be willing to entrust his kids to.  This grabbed my attention because of the fact that we often don’t have control over who is on our team.  For parents, obviously trust is paramount when it comes to asking someone to watch over their kids.  They spend time vetting potential care givers and they reluctantly accept help.  When trust is established, the person who has extended that trust effectively surrenders control of some sort to the person who is entrusted.    If there is any doubt and the parent finds him/herself looking over the shoulder of the person who was supposedly “trusted” then that defeats the whole purpose.  Effectively that means that the person is not trusted.

When it comes to projects trust works in the same way.  If we decide to extend trust to a team member who is assigned some aspect of the project, we are effectively surrendering control of an aspect of the project and expecting that the person will do what was promised.  However, often on projects we won’t be able to take time to build that trust, we have to ramp up quickly and be prepared to implement with extreme speed.

We have to balance the need to build rapport leading up to trust with the need to delegate and hold everyone accountable.  One technique that I’ve employed on my projects is starting small with team members that I work with for the first time.  By assigning them small work packages that can be delivered quickly this helps build a baseline for their performance and as time progresses, they will either continue to earn the team’s trust or we will discover that they are not a good match for the team.