This IS your grandfather's project management: Building a trust-based team


Cathy Thuerbach, PMP, Manager, Deloitte Consulting LLP

A project team lacking trust is not really a team; rather, it is just a group of people, working together, often struggling with issues, missing deadlines, and having disappointing results. Without trust, a project team can find itself spending much of its time battling one another rather than accomplishing objectives. Regardless of team members' capabilities or skills, the team may never reach its full potential if there are trust issues. However, when trust is in place, each individual in the team becomes stronger as part of an effective, collaborative group. Trust and rapport between project members is vital in order for the team to work effectively. So how can you, as a leader, help your team build the trust that it needs to flourish? This paper focuses on building and maintaining trust in high-performing teams.


I've been blessed with great mentors in my life, both personally and professionally. One of the first and most influential was my grandfather, Herman Thuerbach. He was a man of great integrity and humility, a natural leader, who spent his entire career working for a relatively large manufacturing company, starting in 1920s as a mail boy and working his way up the ranks until he was a plant manager. He ended up retiring after 45 years of loyal service.

Fast forward many years . . .  I'm now working for the same company and find myself being transferred into operations after the division I was hired into relocated to another state. From almost the first day in this new role, I was regularly asked if I knew Herman. Of course, I proudly said, yes! Then, the person asking would proceed to tell me how much they loved working for my grandfather, often sharing some story or memory. At first this was “nice,” but when it continued to happen, it started me on a quest to discover why it was so many people loved my grandfather almost as much as I did. What I discovered is as relevant and valuable today as it was fifty years ago—maybe even more—and is particularly applicable in our project-based world.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Today, our global business community is expanding exponentially, the pace of business places increased demands on people, processes are increasingly complex, and collaboration is crucial. One constant in most organizations is change. Relationships have always been important in business, but in this environment, the need is greater than ever. After all, business is conducted through relationships, and the foundation of effective relationships is trust.

Trust Matters…

Trust has mattered since man's earliest days when it could literally have meant the difference between life and death for our distant ancestors. Trust has continued to matter to each generation since those earliest days. In The SPEED of Trust (2006), Stephen Covey states, “Trust impacts us 24/7, 365 days a year. It undergirds and affects the quality of every relationship, every communication, every work project, every business venture, every effort in which we are engaged” (p. 1-2).

Covey continues with, “Trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create—much faster than you probably think possible” (p. 2). Once team members, sponsors, and stakeholders trust the project manager, they can suspend disbelief, and in doing so achieve things through projects that previously seemed impossible.

With Team Members

Team members need to be able to depend on each other to complete their function, to believe that information shared is truthful, to have confidence in coworkers' skills and abilities, to give and receive honest feedback, and to continuously learn from each other. Relationships based on trust separate well-functioning teams from those that are just surviving. Trust is and always has been a foundation of healthy teams—it is inspiring and invigorating.

With Stakeholders

The High Cost of Low Performance: The Essential Role of Communications (2013) published by the Project Management Institute (PMI) states, “Project success is dependent upon communicating the correct information to the appropriate stakeholders, using clear and relevant language that resonates with the audience” (p. 5). It's a logical extension that the “correct information” needs to be information that is accurate and truthful . . .  information that can be trusted.

With Sponsors

As the person or group within the organization who provides the resources and support for the project and ultimately is accountable for the project, it's crucial that the sponsor has a relationship with the program and/or project manager(s) and team members that is based on trust and truthful interaction. Building inter-organization trust is essential since the organization will remain even as individuals may come and go, and therefore it is critical to maintain the trust, regardless of the individuals involved in any project (Scherer, 2008, p. 31).

Perceptions of Trust

While it may seem obvious that trust plays a huge role in relationships and project teams, there are still some who would disagree. In her study on the role of trust in project teams, Scherer found that some project managers had a difficult time recognizing the value of trust. “Possibly the most enlightening statement was, ‘I do not see any need for this series of questions in the context of filling out a survey on project management’” (Scherer, 2008, p. 73).

Too much trust can be an issue as well. The team can begin to exhibit “blind trust,” where the high trust placed in others creates a situation where team members accept the information at face value. It's important that team members feel as comfortable questioning the information and ideas of others as they are bringing their information and ideas forward.

Situations Matter…

Organizational situations can have a profound impact on the trust within the organization, and by extension, within project teams. Does the organization use a centralized or decentralized structure? Is the organization's culture one of mutual respect and benefit, or is it focused primarily on the stockholders and/or owner(s)? What types of behaviors are recognized and rewarded? And is there a formal process for recognition, or is this handled differently by each project manager? These and many other nuances of the organization can significantly help or hinder the project manager as he or she builds a trusting environment for his or her project team members.

Organization Culture

Social networks built on communication, knowledge, and trust are traditionally at the core of a company's culture. Every organization operates in a different way, and not abiding by the norms of the organization could lead to the team distancing themselves from the project manager, potentially destroying any chance of building trust. It is generally easier for a project manager to mold herself to the organization's culture than to convince team members to operate in a style preferred by the project manager but contrary to corporate culture. This insight and adaptation is a key attribute of good project managers.

Incentive Structure

It's important when structuring incentives that they are based more on team performance rather than individual performance, although it's still important to recognize individual achievements from time to time. Unfortunately, many performance management and incentive systems are so focused on individual contributors that they may inadvertently undermine teamwork. People are usually going to do the kind of work they're rewarded for and may avoid the activities that bring no reward or recognition.

People Matter…

People have always had nuances, quirks, and personalities that they bring with them when they join an organization. This has not changed through the years. These are the accumulation of experiences, values, and perceptions that result in team dynamics of the particular team. These dynamics can change each time a project team member leaves or joins the project team. Project managers need to understand these attributes, as they are responsible for creating and managing teams. Within teams, relationships can significantly impact the likelihood that project goals will be accomplished.

Social Modeling

The influence of positive social role models often increases the likelihood of others following the manager's lead. It's been demonstrated many times that individuals will try to appear in the way they believe to be socially desirable and acceptable, even if it does not accurately represent their true behaviors. Thus, it's important that we recognize how situations influence team member behavior. Project managers and team members should make an effort to maximize the positive and minimize the negative effects for the benefit of the entire team. We've all heard the phrase “practice what you preach” or the importance of “walking the talk.” These axioms are the manifestation of what we generally know to be true—people are often more deeply influenced by actions than by our words alone. Modeling great personal attributes is one of the strengths my grandfather used naturally, probably without even realizing it.

Functional Diversity

As organizations have moved into the twenty-first century, there's little doubt that work challenges continue to increase along with economic pressures. The need for cross-functional teams will likely continue to increase as well. With increased pressures of shorter schedules and the need to limit costs, project teams (and particularly cross-functional teams would likely benefit) will need to develop trust very quickly. Therefore, the early development of a team climate for trust is as important as ever and can significantly increase effective team communication, cooperation, and collaboration across functions. Griffin and Hauser (1996) proposed that more effective team processes may emerge from a team climate based on trust. However, for many project teams and especially for cross-functional teams, it may require targeted action from the project manager to create this climate of trust quickly.

Cultural Diversity

If not managed, cultural diversity can have a significant impact on project team development, causing misunderstandings, delays in deliverables, and increased costs. Any person who is new to the team could be viewed as an unknown; however, this can be exacerbated by different backgrounds, norms, and world views. The project manager should be cognizant of cultural differences, perceived or real, and work to encourage awareness, sensitivity, and patience. Different communication methods and styles may be required dependent on cultural norms, e.g., some team members may provide and receive feedback easily, while others may find that exceptionally difficult.

Environments Matter…

The environment of the organization as well as the team structure can significantly impact the project manager's success in building trust within his or her team. Some organizations have a very high trust environment while others might operate in a deficit of trust, and most probably fall somewhere in between. Organizations with a history of hierarchical management often still operate in a “need to know” environment, which by definition limits communication and inhibits the building of trust within teams. In today's world, virtual teams are quickly becoming the norm rather than the exception. All of these, coupled with team empowerment, can help pave the way for the project manager, or they can create challenges and roadblocks in the team-building process.

High Trust Versus Low Trust

In high-trust organizations, employees are able to make decisions and take risks while feeling secure that others want them to succeed. They trust that their efforts will be fairly supported and that their results will be judged fairly. In low-trust situations, it was found that group members are often much more focused on their individual goals and were hesitant to take risks for the benefit of the team (Scherer, 2008, p. 32).

In his book, The Decision to Trust: How LEADERS Create High-Trust Organizations, Robert Hurley (2012) reports on surveys and interviews conducted from 2005 to 2010 with more than 1,000 employees and executives to understand what high and low trust feel like inside an organization. He found that those fortunate enough to work in high-trust organizations speak of them as places that are “fun,” “supportive,” “open,” “transparent,” and, above all, “successful” and “productive.” When respondents describe low-trust environments, they describe a “stressful,” “divisive,” and “unproductive” experience.

Impact of “Need to Know” Philosophy

Hierarchical organizations often operate on a “need to know” basis; thus, project managers may withhold information from team members. Communicating information on a “need to know” basis creates a culture of secrets—high trust simply cannot exist in a team where there are a lot of secrets. In hierarchical organizations, problems often are not recognized until after they have become pervasive and therefore difficult to remedy. (Scherer, 2008, p. 69)

This can be a particularly difficult situation to overcome in organizations that have their roots in the military and similar environments. Project managers in such organizations may find themselves spending more time encouraging open communication within and outside of the project team.

Team Empowerment

Empowering project team members with decision-making authority inherently requires a high level of trust in order to be effective. It requires that project managers trust team members to make good decisions, and that team members can trust that they will be recognized when their good decisions positively affect team outcomes. Empowering project team members makes logical sense given their involvement with the day-to-day activities and the fact that they have the “business intelligence” to recognize and address problems early. Granting authority to these individuals, when feasible, can build trust while possibly reducing costs and increasing productivity.

Virtual Versus In-Person

If you manage a virtual team, you likely are working with team members who may have never met face to face, or who may have never spoken to one another personally. Project success may be at increased risk when team members are not trusting or perceived as not trustworthy. Leading such a team requires a deliberate trust-building process, and a greater attention to communication and to building and maintaining relationships. Following through is incredibly important in a virtual team. Positive follow-through builds trust, and can help raise the entire group's expectations and outlook.

Team Development Matters…

Trust in relationships is a fundamental human need. Project teams are built on relationships; thus, one could say that trust is the foundation of team development. It can foster a sense of belonging and inspire members to communicate openly. Without trust, members might hesitate to commit to the team's goals, take calculated risks, or support one another. As we've learned from the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—5th Edition (Project Management Institute, 2013a, p. 275), the most common model used to describe team development is the Tuckman ladder (Tuckman & Jensen, 1977), which includes five stages of development that teams go through: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. Trust plays a role in each stage.


During this stage, even though members are beginning to form impressions of each other, they tend to avoid conflict, controversy, and personal opinions while trying to gain an understanding of team goals and objectives. Team characteristics may lead to low trust during the initial forming of the team. Project managers should determine interventions to help combat the low trust that is often inherent in a newly formed team. In other words, this is the time to start developing a team climate for trust with the expectation that this climate can result in more effective team processes and ultimately more effective performance. Utilizing the same process as agile teams can help with team integration, since new team members are usually expected to participate immediately, while building trust and relationships quickly.


Next, the group has to move through the storming phase where conflicts often arise as personal agendas and preferences merge and may clash with team goals. At this stage, the more dominant team members begin to emerge, while their less confrontational team members tend to stay in the relative comfort and security of silence, just as they did in the forming stage. Even though these team members may not speak up, issues may exist. This phase can be crucial in the development of trust, as team members are looking for clarification and guidance as they strive to become comfortable with their role on the team and with their fellow team members.


Once a team receives the clarity that it was seeking, it can move on to the third stage where it becomes a more cohesive unit. Morale is usually high as team members actively acknowledge the skills, strengths, and experience that each member brings to the group. A sense of community is established and the team remains focused on the project's purpose and goals. Members are flexible, interdependent, and trust each other. Leadership is shared, and members are willing to adapt to the needs of the project team.


Assuming the project team doesn't get stuck in a prior stage, it now moves into the performing stage, marked by high productivity and high trust. Team members are supportive, unified, and committed. Problem solving, innovation, and validating possible solutions are high as team members are focused on task completion and achieving the project goals. The overall objective of the team during this stage is to complete the mission and fulfill the project's purpose. This is where the project team can see the benefits of earlier efforts in building trust, camaraderie, and collaboration among team members.


During this final phase, successful completion of the project is often celebrated, and the team members focus on documenting the lessons learned as part of the project closure activities. A team that has successfully built trusting relationships is likely to be better equipped to honestly evaluate their processes, issues, and achievements to glean the lessons that can be shared with stakeholders, sponsors, and future project teams.

Actions That Tear Down Trust

We've all probably experienced at some point how difficult it can be to build trust, how rewarding trusting relationships can be, and yet how fast trust can be destroyed by perceptions, misunderstandings, or mistakes, regardless of how well-intentioned the action may have been. Below you'll find some common situations project managers and team members might find themselves in that can create an environment where trust is less likely to take hold and grow.

Withhold Information

In a study of the relationship between trust and effective communication within project teams, Alyson Scherer (2012) found that 46% of project managers admitted to having withheld information from project team members and 58% believed project team members have withheld information from them, whereas almost 80% of team members claimed they do not withhold information from their project managers. “The data suggests that the behavior is a self-perpetuating cycle based on perception; the project managers know they are withholding information from their project teams and therefore perceive that the project team members must be withholding information from them” (p. 69). In relationships where there is this much suspicion, trust is likely absent between the project manager and team members.


On a popular TV show, the office manager partakes in “blame-storming” sessions—basically brainstorming sessions to determine the people or actions that can be blamed for a difficulty or failure. When people work together, honest mistakes and disappointments will inevitably happen, and it's easy to look to blame someone. However, when everyone starts pointing fingers, an unpleasant atmosphere can quickly develop, lowering morale, undermining trust, and potentially damaging team productivity.


Whether done by the project manager or a project team member, making excuses rather than acknowledging the facts of a situation is a way of trying to avoid accepting responsibility, which in turn can damage credibility. The team may know the truth even if the person making the excuse doesn't realize it. Repetitive excuse making can erode the project manager's reliability factor whether he or she is the one making the excuse, or is failing to challenge another team member's habit of making excuses for poor work or missed deadlines.

Allowing Unhealthy Alliances and Hidden Agendas

Sometimes, cliques can form within a team, often between team members who share common interests or work tasks. However, these groups can—even inadvertently—make others feel isolated, undermining trust between team members. Equally unhealthy, team dynamics can amplify any existing misrepresentations. It excessively rewards team players, discouraging dissent, particularly if it could cause a delay, while encouraging self-preservation. In response, individuals may be more likely to conform and compromise as they see the person with an opposing view of the data being discredited or removed. Truth-telling and trust is typically damaged in such an environment.

Another unfortunate situation arises from hidden agendas, which may be part of a team's life. Individuals may not fully disclose their interests or needs and then work to meet them covertly. Team members may withhold information, thinking that this will help them gain or maintain power. Hidden agendas tend to break down trust and can lead to betrayal.

Rewarding Individuals at the Team's Expense

According to the PMBOK® Guide, recognition of accomplishments is a key part of the human resource plan. If recognition is disproportionately given to favorite team members while others' contributions go unrecognized, those team members could lose faith in the project manager's ability to see the whole story. Team members may question the credibility of the manager and no longer feel a sense of commitment to the project's objectives and goals.

Similarly, some organizations reward top performers while disciplining low performers. This can drive team members to strive for stellar results, but it may motivate them to do so at the expense of their fellow team members. It tends to encourage team members to keep their best ideas to themselves inhibiting the sharing of information. Collaboration and cooperation can suffer, along with innovative solutions. Without the benefit of input from team members, many ideas may be underdeveloped and ultimately fail to accomplish the objective(s).

Fear-Based Environment

The “fight or flight” response, or fear conditioning, can be very useful in situations such as touching a hot stove or avoiding a dangerous situation. However, it can be harmful in a project team environment, as it can drive people to avoid necessary activities for fear of negative consequences. Fear of this sort can keep team members from doing what they otherwise would be doing, like telling the truth, especially if they or other team members have been reprimanded in the past for sharing accurate, but unwelcome, information.


We've all heard and probably said the statement, “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” This is borne of the absence of trust and can lead to micromanaging by the project manager or fellow project team members. There are times when trust breaks down not because of a lack of technical or functional ability, but because the project manager or another team member is not able to trust others. The individual with the low disposition to trust generally wants to know what other team members are doing and may feel a need to “help them do their jobs.” They often don't understand why their offer to “help” isn't welcomed. Ultimately, their inability to trust often stalls the team development process.

Actions That Build Trust

It's one thing to say project teams need an environment of trust in order to function effectively, but it's another to actually spend the time necessary to engage your team members and build relationships based on trust. Increasing trust between team members can foster stronger, healthier interactions, as it reduces feelings of doubt in each other. Scherer (2008, p. 19) found organizations that cultivate systems to successfully increase levels of trust between employees will ultimately increase the effectiveness of communication throughout the project teams of the organization.

In order for managers to build mutual trust within their teams, they must first gain the trust of the members by establishing themselves as a credible and trustworthy individual who “walks the talk” when it comes to integrity and fairness. There are many attributes and actions that can help project managers build a high level of trust in the project team.

Personal Attributes

Be Genuine

To try to be anything but yourself is disingenuous, and your team will probably see right through it. When dealing with a challenging circumstance, a good first step is to be authentic. As quoted from Harvard Business Review, “People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not a replica of someone else” (George et al., 2007). In my conversations with those who had worked for my grandfather, I heard over and over how he was genuine to his values and that those values guided how he treated those around him.

Never Compromise Integrity or Personal Values

Regardless of the situation, a project manager should not compromise her integrity. This is a lesson I learned personally from my grandfather, and I have witnessed it numerous times in my professional and personal life. When team members see a leader who is willing to compromise basic values, the trust and credibility of that leader is often destroyed and can be exceptionally difficult to rebuild. It can also have a “trickle-down” effect on the project team members, impacting the team and potentially leading to project issues.

Lead by Example

If you want to build trust within your team, then lead by example, and show your people that you trust others. This means trusting your team, your colleagues, and your boss. Don't forget that your team members are watching and taking cues from you—take the opportunity to show them what trust in others looks like. Trust is built on strong communication and hard work. Establishing yourself as a thoughtful leader helps you empower your team by sharing your ideas. And when necessary, don't be afraid to help team members who are struggling to complete a task in spite of their best efforts.

Know Your Personal Weaknesses and Mitigate Them

Every one of us is human and as such, we all have weaknesses. The problem is not that we have weaknesses, but when we allow those weaknesses to affect our work and the work of team members. Project managers who acknowledge their weaknesses and take steps to mitigate potential effects encourage others to do the same. This, in turn, can build trust within the team and boost collaboration to accomplish the task in spite of any shortfall in skills or experience.

Project Manager Actions

Be Consistent and Predictable

Consistently keeping agreements means that the project manager and team members could be more willing to be accountable for their actions. When commitments and agreements are honored, regardless of size, trust within the team can be strengthened. The same predictability is critical when responding to any team members who don't meet defined expectations. Team members need to be able to trust that such situations will be handled fairly and with consistent concern for the team member, the team as a whole, and the project. They need to know that the project manager is not afraid to make tough decisions and enforce them when needed.

Encourage Openness and Transparency

Successful leadership requires candid, straightforward communication and a “true” open-door policy. Honesty and transparency in the project manager's actions and conversations are important, particularly as it relates to what team members want and expect from the project as well as what the project manager expects of them. During difficult times on the project this becomes even more important. Even the perception of avoiding a topic or purposely providing inaccurate or incomplete information can undermine the team's trust and damage the team's effectiveness. When circumstances require information to remain confidential, the project manager should say that he is not able to share that information at this time rather than to “make something up.”

Don't Be Afraid of Difficult Discussions

Some people have a natural tendency to avoid the difficult discussions, but that's not feasible for project managers. Quite a few years ago, I was feeling “stuck in a rut” and felt it was time for a change. I posted my resume to a popular job search site at the time. To my great surprise, just two days later, my manager asked me about it. After I recovered and stopped stammering about, we had a great conversation. We ended up with a strong relationship based on mutual trust and respect. We may have never reached that level of trust if he had been afraid to confront me and ask the difficult questions.

Manage Expectations and Share Team Mission

The mission and purpose of the project defines the reason the team was formed and should be shared with the team members very early in the project team selection process. Equally important is to share the expectations that define the objectives and scope of work for team members. Project team members who know what they are supposed to do and what to expect from their fellow team members have the foundation for a team that trusts and relies on one another. “The sweet spot of trust comes into play when all are committed to the work being done and to the larger collaborative mission,” according to Mike Gelles, a director in Deloitte's Human Capital practice.

When managing a cross-functional team, it's important that aspects of each functional culture are linked to the mission in a way that leads to a shared objective for the team and increases the team climate for trust. When the purpose of a cross-functional team has not been clearly established, team members may have difficulty aligning toward the same objectives and may operate at on their own agendas based on function.

Explore Interpersonal Understanding/Shared Experiences

The more we feel we know another person well and share certain values or experiences with them, the more we tend to trust him or her. One way to build trust within a team is to encourage team members to view their colleagues as people by creating situations, especially in the forming stage of team development, to share personal stories, and begin to bond. Project managers could start by sharing some personal information about themselves, and then ask others to share as well. Of course, good judgment needs to be exercised when team members are discussing personal information—don't invade their privacy and don't let the dialogue turn to topics that could offend or alienate others!

Have Your Team's Back

One of the most critical and sometimes toughest things to do is to have your team's back, especially when things aren't going well. That doesn't mean to make excuses for them, but rather to make sure fair and accurate information is communicated and no one is “thrown under the bus” for actions that could not have reasonably been prevented. It's equally important to build positive relationships with other team or project managers to facilitate a positive image for the project, thus potentially increasing the reputation and identity of team members, leading to increased team trust. In my talks with my grandfather's past employees, they shared numerous stories of how he had “had their back” at some point.

Communicate Openly and Frequently

Open and continuous communication is essential for building trust within a project team. Time spent in team discussions is an important part of getting to know each other. The project manager can demonstrate that open communication is important by consistently sharing with the group and remembering what has been discussed in the past. The more that is shared within the team, the more comfortable they are likely to feel trusting of the project manager and each other. Additionally, project managers could try to make team members feel comfortable asking for a one-on-one meeting, and that the contents of the conversation will be kept confidential if needed. Whether in a one-on-one meeting, or as part of a team discussion, the project manager could use body language clues as a potential sign of understanding. If there are any concerns about whether the message was received as intended, clarify sooner rather than later.

As a project manager, it's critical to “listen” to team members regarding their concerns before providing a suggested action or solution, or making a decision. And whenever possible, decisions should take into account the team's input so that they feel the project manager “really” heard them. That will go a long way in empowering members and team communications.

Focus on Outcomes and Recognize Achievements

Project managers should remember that a small gesture can go a long way. When a project manager takes time out to recognize a team member or small group of members, he can connect with them as individuals. A quick e-mail, a thank-you note, or just a kind word can help make team members feel appreciated. A particularly strong motivator is to link the achievements of the task or project to team members' career opportunities. A simple note sent to their functional manager can create an increased commitment to the project, often resulting in increased trust within the team. It is important that the gesture is sincere. The project manager who strives to be genuine and kind can find his perceived trustworthiness is likely to improve.

Encourage Questions

We've all probably heard the phrase “there are no stupid questions.” Project managers should make sure their team knows they mean it. In her research, Scherer (2008) found that individuals often internally question the information and ideas of others on their teams but do not contest them. She states that challenging ideas does not have to have a negative connotation or be done in a confrontational manner, but rather should be viewed as an opportunity to strengthen ideas by analyzing them to their fullest extent (Scherer, 2008, p. 69).

Project team members may need encouragement to ask questions of the project manager and fellow team members. Some project managers may find it helpful to go around the group and ask for questions. To motivate the person asking a good question, use phrases like: “That's an excellent question, I am glad you asked!” and “Who would like to respond to that question?” Using this and similar techniques may help those who are naturally shy or hesitant to speak up. Turn asking good questions into a form of small achievement.

Encourage Collegial and Collaborative Actions

A popular expression says, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” However, teams are made of individuals with their own needs, interests, and personalities they bring with them as they join the project team. In many teams, there is a complex balance between individual interests, functional interests, and the interests of the team as a whole. In teams that reach the performing stage of development, there is a blending process whereby members develop collective interests that coexist with individual interests. The project manager should encourage members to make trade-offs among these interests so as to facilitate the work of the team (Hurley, 2012).

In a team built on trust, collaboration tends to work better because information is shared freely, team members support each other, and synergies are maximized. If trust in the project manager or team members are lacking, or if the organization is not trusted to appreciate and reward collaboration efforts, team members might look for a reason not to collaborate.

Trust Your Team

An intuitive and strong project manager gives trust at the start. Some people tend to make you “earn” trust before they give it. The project manager should set the tone by defining expectations and giving the trust, then seeing what the team members do with it. From there, decisions can be made based on the team members' responses. There will probably be a few disappointments. But team members may feel much more empowered than they would have otherwise been and will likely achieve better results than if the project manager had started off from a non-trusting position and instead watched over every step to make sure it was done correctly.

Key Takeaways for Building Trust within Your Project Teams

Companies have spent countless time and monies tackling the most difficult challenges facing our world today only to fail because of a lack of shared purpose, competitive self-interests, and a trust shortage (Nidumolu, 2014, p. 77).

Charisma, though vital in leaders, is not the same thing as credibility, and doesn't guarantee the trust of team members. They may like the project manager, and even respect him or her. But they will only trust the project manager when that trust is first extended to them. Only by providing team members the room and support to rise to their professional potential can a project manager help team members feel trusted.

“When relationships are honored and the behaviors of transactional trust are consciously practiced consistently, the level of trust reaches a critical point. It experiences a multiplier effect whereby we receive more than we originally gave. Every time trust is offered, greater trust is returned . . .  We feel good about our relationships and are excited about our work and our colleagues. We feel believed in and therefore believe in what we are doing. We feel acknowledged and respected. As a result, we show up for work alert and excited, knowing that what we do makes a difference” (Reina & Reina, 2006).

“Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, First Series: Prudence, 1841)

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Originally published as a part of 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Phoenix, Arizona, USA



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