Collaboration and Trust

Collaborative Construction is a hot topic today. It involves breaking down the barriers between companies working together on a construction project. In a true collaborative contract, each party must be open, honest and share their true costs and contingency amounts. That requires Trust!

You may be concerned that if the other company knows your true costs, they could sabotage your other projects or future negotiations. Or on the flip side, an owner could become vulnerable when their main issues become visible.

How then do we get to the point where we can trust each other enough to show all our cards and start working on the project together as teammates?

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. There will be processes, decisions and moments in time throughout the project where we must avoid certain negative trust choices, and support more positive trust decisions. The key difference in dealing with applied trust between negative and positive options is, do we “break” it or “create” it.

Negative Trust (Avoid This!)

These negative so-called “trust busters” or trust-killing behaviours are inherent in our highly competitive and aggressive business models, both in getting the work itself and then doing the work. In order to build trust, the project should regularly assess if any of these behaviours are occurring and if so they are called out and strongly urged to not continue those behaviours.

  • Not trusting the other is competent to complete the work or tendency to diminish or discount the ability of others
  • Us vs Them mentality
  • Something is going wrong or we made a mistake and we don’t want to face up to it
  • Negativity and being too quick to judge others
  • Deception and manipulation; trying to get as much profit as possible (in an unfair way)
  • Aggression, threats, excommunication, ‘lawyering up’ for a fight

Positive Trust (Encourage This!)

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.  Here are some key behaviours to encourage:

  • Everyone has a voice; listening, fairness and empathy
  • Everyone is trusted to complete their work and people pride themselves in doing what they say they will do
  • People feel secure to speak their minds (they are not punished for small mistakes)
  • People show pride of work and have a sense of connection with the project
  • Team mentality: focus on the win-win potential from collaboration.
  • Loyalty to the project not just to their company
  • There is a connected network that creates a sense of entrusted predictability within the relationships.
  • Sense of true collaboration where risks and rewards are shared jointly.
  • Creativity, innovation and synergy are a shared experience and highly valued by the participants.

Giving someone your trust does have risks. The collaborative project should provide a platform to help support such risks. For example, in regular team meetings, the level of trust can be surveyed and if any negative behaviours are being witnessed it is recorded and the team strongly encourages ways to avoid those behaviours. A serious action could lead to potentially a stall in the relationship or even a sense of a broken trust or betrayal. In these cases, it’s critical to address the situation as a team. 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 and Caitlin Lopez

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