An attendee on an agile project management webinar I co-presented last week asked how one can successfully manage projects (agile or otherwise) in an organization that has major trust issues.
After thinking about all the troubled projects I have witnessed or worked on, there is little doubt that there is a correlation between low levels of trust between key project roles and the ultimate success or failure of these projects. There might be rare situations where the impacts of a lack of trust can be mitigated – for example, crisis projects or those where explicit contractual agreements can be drawn up between players, but in most instances, this issue can be one of the most damaging and yet most challenging to address.
So how can a project manager address this?
The first step is to identify the problem and understand the magnitude of impact. Trust issues usually manifest themselves through negative communications, CYA-behaviors and body language – all cues that require a good combination of self-awareness and good observation skills. Tying these behaviors to project issues starts to provide evidence that there is a real problem that needs to be addressed.
At this point, there are a variety of “baby steps” that can be taken to help the project team or organization re-cultivate trust.
1. Team building exercises at regular intervals over the lifetime of the project and not just during initiation.
2. Lead by example – don’t immediately assume that stakeholders or team members are lying to you or “out to get you”. Only make commitments that you are able to keep.
3. Hold the project organization (team members, customer & stakeholders) accountable to defined & communicated project rules of conduct and engage project sponsorship to support you in this process.
4. Cultivate a sufficiently positive relationship with team members and stakeholders so that if you observe trust-related behaviors, you can (on a one-on-one basis) coach those involved to a more positive approach in the future.
5. Make sure you have a trusted outside observer that can help to keep you “honest” by ensuring that you don’t fall into the “trust trap”.
6. Practice 360 degree recognition – even for those that you or the team might originally have been inclined to distrust.
7. Take the time to ensure that the project organization is aligned with the project’s goals and success criteria – misalignment is a great way to strengthen mistrust.
Organization trust issues can appear like Goliath, but the slingshots of patience & predictability can help to slay this project über-villain.