A critical currency for leaders is trust. To lead effectively, we need to build and nurture trust with partners, subordinates, colleagues, clients, superiors, boards and other stakeholders. In a world that is becoming more integrated and where constellations often change rapidly, our ability to build deeper trust, faster, is critical to our securing impact and creating value.
In many of the leadership development programs I run, participants share with me that they are comfortable about building trust over an extended period – when they have months or years at their disposal, but they struggle to establish deep trust, rapidly. We don’t always have the luxury of ample time so the question of how to build deep trust, rapidly, is an important one.
And it is possible. Let me give an example.
I recently worked on an international collaboration program with participants based in Scandinavia, the Middle East and East Asia. The constellation was brought together rapidly to design and produce a complex document that required skills in many different domains. The ten participants in our team belonged to six different organizations. They were hand-picked based on their expertise in the required domains – but many of us had never met, let alone collaborated in any way. We had two weeks to get to know one another, establish trust, agree rules of engagement, clarify roles and responsibilities, design our document, produce it and deliver it. The collaboration was exciting. It can be energizing to work with a new team, but none of us knew how this group of people would end up working together.
The team turned out to be productive – after addressing some initial confusion. I felt confident that we would succeed when I observed one team member (let us call him Nils) expressed his opinion of another team member (let us call him Mo Pien): “I trust this man almost blindly.” That is, of course, a strong statement. But it is particularly strong given that Nils and Mo Pien had never met, came from different countries, lived in very different places (Middle East and East Asia), and had different backgrounds. (Nils and Mo Pien have still have not met – though they have the intent to get face-to-face at some point).
As I reflect on how this team built trust in under a week, using only phone and e-mail, it struck me how four factors contributed. Team members demonstrated i) credibility, ii) reliability, iii) intimacy and iv) low self-orientation.