Background on this post

I wrote this post as a bit of a manifesto. I often have the impression from project managers that, while they expect their teams to trust them, they are not giving the trust back to the team. And it occurred to me that this really was about taking a risk, and managing that risk in the project.

Take the risk of trusting your team

From the part of the person who gives it, trust is hard. It requires
a leap of faith. It requires that we believe the person we trust is
worth it.

From the part of the person who receives it, trust is energizing. It
means that someone was willing to take that leap of faith for us. It
means we are worth it. Trust also carries responsibility: if we want to
keep that trust, we must prove the giver right. This means delivering
on that trust.

Project management requires a high level of trust

  • The project manager must trust the team to do quality work on time and on budget.
  • The project team must trust the project manager to lead them efficiently and help them meet their deadlines.
  • The stakeholders must trust the project manager to understand their needs.
  • The project sponsors must trust the project manager to control the project and prevent cost and schedule overruns.

In a nutshell, the project team must trust each other. That includes
the project manager, the team, the stakeholder and the sponsors. For
most of us, trust is not something we give freely, to everyone. We tend
to be careful with our trust. We want people to prove that they are trustworthy before we trust them at all.

From a leadership and teamwork standpoint, this is a problem. How
can we know someone can be trusted if we won’t trust them? Sure, they
may have built a reputation – which helps – but we’ve never trusted
this person before. Or maybe they’ve never managed such a big project.
Or maybe the technology is new to them. There is always a reason not to trust someone.

Lack of trust is bad

We all know how it feels not to be trusted. It reflects on the
opinion people have of us. It taints the perception we have of the
person who is not willing to trust us. It’s difficult to do a good job
if our project manager is constantly double-checking out work. It’s
even more difficult to build project forecasts if we always question
the estimates the team is giving us. Over time, a team that is not
trusted will lose its initiative and dynamics. They will turn into
drones who simply execute.

It this what we want in our teams? I think not.

Take the risk of trusting your team

Trusting someone is taking a risk. While having that trust broken
can have a high impact on the project, it also carries the opportunity
of better project performance. Just like project reporting by exception
is a technique that saves time, as project managers we should practice
mistrust by exception: trust your team by default, and take the trust
away from people who have proven they couldn’t be trusted.

Isn’t it what a risk register is for? 🙂