Collaboration is a Matter of Trust

There is a Ladder of Trust in human relationships including collaborative efforts.  Trust is going to be foundational in any progress towards authentic collaboration on construction projects.  Trust must be created, nurtured and growing if a collaboration construction model for projects is going to be optimized.  While Trust is not everything in developing a collaborative culture, it is way ahead of other elements in realizing the successful design, deployment and delivery of collaborative contracting approaches.

Trust is Neutral at the traditional Transactional level of project contracting and performance, it is neither good nor bad.  However, if we are attempting to change from a purely self-interested, “what’s in it for me” business transactional approach into a collaboration culture we must create and embed trust into the business approach.

The Trust options in the evolution of a project could either go positively or negatively.   We have all experienced negativity in our adversarial and competitive business culture.  We have all also occasionally enjoyed the positive outcomes of trust, but more often within our social and community interactions.  The key difference in dealing with applied trust between negative and positive options is, do we “break” it or “create” it.

Negative Trust:

These negative so-called “trust busters” are inherent in our highly competitive and aggressive business models, both in getting the work itself and then doing the work.  The trust busters we have all seen start with the tendency to diminish and discount the ability of others through negativity.  It evolves into denial for personal protection and sees people withholding information or effort, even engaging in sabotage in extreme situations.  Next is manipulation where parties maneuver to achieve the winning end of the Win-Lose situation.  This is followed by Deception where lying and trickery are often used for protection and cover instead of taking responsibility.  Aggression follows where threats are made, and even direct attacks are instituted as parties “lawyer up” for a fight. The lowest level of broken trust is the vicious character assassination where a feeling of betrayal results and there are efforts at demonizing the “other.”

Positive Trust:

The positive trust builders are more relational than just transactional.  This is where a sense evolves that one is contributing to a larger purpose than just self-interest.  The early stages to build trust are founded in working on a relationship with others by active listening and seeking mutual fairness more than winning in a zero-sum approach.  There develops a sense of contributors having personal honour to uphold and people feel secure within the group.  The result is a trust in the team and a realization of the win-win potential from collaboration.  As a project evolves or new projects emerge, including with some or all the same participants, a sense of loyalty to the endeavour and to the group emerges.  There is a connected network that creates a sense of entrusted predictability within the relationships.  People pride themselves in doing what they say they will do and the respect that garners from others. This is foundational to establishing a sense of true collaboration were risks and rewards are shared jointly.  The highest level of positive trust building is where creativity, innovation and synergy are a shared experience and highly valued by the participants.

Where do We Start Building Trust for Collaboration?

We might presume parties in traditional contractual arrangements are at the Neutral Transactional level of Trust.  However, given our competitive culture and adversarial contracting culture it is just as safer to assume we are starting somewhere in Negative Trust territory.  It is not too aggressive to assume parties are at least somewhat judgmental about others, feeling the need to protect themselves and be mostly self-serving in search of “winning” in a competitive mindset.

As we move up the Trust Ladder there will be points where there will have to be “leaps of faith” where risks are taken by at least one party in the hope that the collaboration model can progress to the next and higher levels of trust.  If the leap is unsuccessful the best possible outcome is to stall the trust level at the current state.  Alternatively, the sense of a broken trust or betrayal could result in a withdraw and decline into negative trust by one or more participants.

There are tools to deal with negative consequences and they revolve around applied communications, understanding, empathy, accountability, transparency, openness, honesty and integrity.   These tools need to be used early and often even before there is a crisis or breakdown of trust.

Author: Ken Chapman

Read more posts about: Alberta Construction, Collaboration, Trust