Trust in the Team: Why We Need It and How It Can Be Built

When training managers of any level (from small team leads to project/program managers), most trainers focus on various managerial competencies, such as goal setting, planning, effective communication, etc., and on general concepts such as leadership and management.

When training managers of any level (from small team leads to project/program managers), most trainers focus on various managerial competencies, such as goal setting, planning, effective communication, etc., and on general concepts such as leadership and management. But I have rarely come across training courses that focus on one the most important aspects of team work...trust. However, the understanding of what trust is and how you can enhance or diminish it will greatly help you in dealing with people and building your career. Of course, a lot depends on Soft Skills, but I want to look at management processes from the perspective of trust. Let’s discuss it.

What is trust...?

Trust. What comes to your mind when you hear this word? What is it really? Why has trust between people been coming to the fore recently (not only in IT industry but everywhere in the world)? What are the reasons for that? What should we do to increase the level of trust? There are a lot of questions. Let’s try to find answers to them together.

Trust is a sophisticated and hard to measure. It is difficult to describe in one phrase everything that the notion includes. One definition states that trust is “open, positive relationships between people, confidence in decency and benevolence of the other person with whom the trusting person is in certain relations.” Another definition says that it is “a complex of a subject’s apprehensions and moods which reflect the subject’s expectations regarding a certain object (what the object will do), certain functions that contribute to increasing or preserving the subject’s resources, and are expressed in the subject’s willingness to delegate the realization of these functions to the object.”

Very sophisticated and not quite clear. Let’s try, with simple examples and in simple words, to find out what trust is. Suppose you and your friend are engaged in an activity together, e.g. cooking dinner. I must clarify that you both are willing to cook. It’s not a situation when you leave everything to your friend (you don’t care about an outcome) and go watch TV. So you divide the duties – who will do this or that part of the job; for example, you cook meat and your friend is responsible for potatoes and salad.

Did you think about why you divided the duties like that? There could be a lot of variants: You can’t cook potatoes and salad but are good at cooking meat; your friend is better than you in cooking potatoes but can’t cook meat; none of you can cook meat but you decided to take on the responsibility, etc. Once again, we are not talking about an option where you (or you both) don’t care about the outcome. In any of the proposed variants you showed trust in your friend, and your friend showed trust in you.

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Suppose you can cook meat better than potatoes. Then it turns out that the friend entrusted you with cooking meat (and you entrusted him with cooking potatoes). That is, your friend expects a good outcome, better than if he/she did it, or he/she is quite satisfied with the quality you can provide (at least you won’t make something poisonous). That’s what we call trust – trust shown to you, based on your experience and (above all) your friend’s knowledge of this experience and inner agreement with it. If your partner had not agreed to the proposed division of jobs, then by taking the responsibility for cooking everything he/she would demonstrate that he/she was better in cooking and had no trust in you. And in that case you could either trust him/her or not, refusing to eat what he/she had cooked. You can look from different perspective at this meat and potatoes job division – your friend doesn’t believe that you capable of cooking a side dish properly (better than him/her).

Let’s also consider another (provocative) answer – “nobody can cook meat but you ventured to take the responsibility for it.” What would happen in that case? Your friend knows that you can’t cook, but relying on others experiences of dealing with you, your general cooking skills, and his/her experience of cooking meat, he/she lets you take the responsibility, thereby giving you a certain “credit of trust.” Then you have to take steps to confirm this and increase the level of trust. If you cooked well, then next time it would be easier for you to persuade your friend that you cook meat, but on the other hand, it would be more difficult to reject that responsibility.

I hope that, using this example, we have discussed trust in sufficient detail. Move on then…

Relationships in the modern world are getting more and more dynamic. The borders between states are disappearing, irrespective of whether you like it or not. The disappearance of borders is most evident in economic relations between states. The growth of trade and remote work contributes to building relationships between people living in different social environments, different culture, belonging to different races. And here the phenomenon of trust comes to prominence.

Imagine the following situation: You’re going to buy something in an online shop. What do you usually do when you are in doubt? Right, you look through feedback about the seller and goods they offer. And what do you do when the delivered item is not like it was in the fascinating description? Right, you give your feedback. And it happens not only with online shops – the whole segment of services is now moving to the same system of evaluation. Long gone is the time when price was the only decisive factor for selecting goods or services.

Modern life brings forth a certain way of thinking that make us look at what other people think, and based on that build our own system of trust. That is, we not only show trust or distrust but also actively engage in building new models of trust. We are getting into a vicious circle: the more we trust (or distrust) what people are saying, the stronger trust (or distrust) becomes. And we tend to extend such behavioral models onto other spheres of our life. In other words, being dishonest in the modern world does not pay.

And before talking about building trust in a team, I suggest looking at certain myths in which many managers believe. But morea bout that in our next article.

Vadim Kachurovsky

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