The trust building loop

The trust building loop is a concept centred around the idea that trust should be developed incrementally, with the successful outcome of each step serving to reinforce trust and underpin more ambitious collaboration. Through the accumulation of ‘small wins’ (Bryson, 1988), the trust building loops builds on itself over time.

However, it could be argued that the ‘small wins’ approach is overly-simplistic; while it may work with low-risk collaborations, or collaborations that are not heavily constrained by time, it may not be such an appropriate strategy in more ambitious collaborative contexts, or those that do not have the luxury of time in which to develop trust incrementally.

Some more features of collaborative contexts that impact on initiating the loop are:

  • ambiguity and complexity of the collaborative context
  • the difficulty in clarifying aims, expectations, and the collaborative agenda
  • managing risk while trust develops.

There are also several features of collaborative contexts that impact on sustaining the loop.

  • the constantly changing dynamics of collaboration
  • power imbalances within a collaborative context
  • the need for nurturing and continuous effort to sustain trust.

(Source: Huxham and Vangen, 2005).

Trust and mistrust

Mistrust is potentially as valuable as trust because when properly managed, it can help to counter our human tendency towards confirmation bias – a tendency to see what we want to see. We are heavily influenced by social stereotypes, and as individuals we believe we have better than average judgment about whom to trust. Maintaining a degree of ‘prudent paranoia’ (Kramer, 2009) helps reawaken our sense of danger, and serves as a early warning system that reminds us to gather more information about our situation.

The possible dangers of being too trusting lie in the fact that trust entails risk. People often go to great lengths to appear the opposite of what they really are, backing themselves up with what appear to be hard data to counter the concerns of others. Evidence like this can be difficult to ignore because it seems more credible than paranoia. It is relatively easy for organisations and governments to manipulate facts, impressions, and interpretations so that they seem acceptable.

Business is fundamentally about making connections between people, so a degree of trust between individuals and teams is critical to success. However, the articles by Kramer (2009) argue convincingly that there is also a need to temper our tendency to over-trust.

(Source: Kramer, 2009, cited in B325 website).

Building trust and relationships

What is trust?

Trust involves having faith or belief in an individual or an organisation, and relying upon an individual or organisation to do something, it can even involve placing oneself in someone else’s hands.

Relationship building

Relationship building in interpersonal relations is important for developing and maintaining trust because it allows both parties to observe how each carry out their duties in the relationship, how each keep their promises, and how reliable each party is. Relationship building allows both parties to assess how trustworthy each is, developing trust gradually with incremental steps throughout the relationship.

Building trust

Trust between individuals and teams is critical to success because business is fundamentally about making connections between people. Without belief in the abilities of others, or knowledge/experience of others’ reliability, it would be very difficult to conduct business that involved any form of reliance upon another. Modern businesses of any size typically involve many collaborative activities with individuals and teams working together; without trust between these individuals and teams, the risk of collaborative inertia would be increased due to the level of suspicion, and resultant questioning and verification required in order to confidently work together.

(Source: The Open University, 2012).

Power and politics

The B325 course reader, Organisational collaboration contains an interesting chapter about understanding power in organisations.

Some summary notes about organisational politics gleaned from reading the chapter:

What is meant by organisational politics? 

Pfeffer likens organisational politics to governmental politics, and points out that in order to understand organisational politics, it is also necessary to understand governmental politics.

Why do they hinge on interdependent action?

Pfeffer goes on to point out that it is possible to exist as a ‘organisational hermit’, operating as an individual, but in order to accomplish anything significant, interdependent action is required, as without this an individual has limited influence.

Why is an awareness of the political dimensions of organisations so important?

Pfeffer points out that individual success in organisations involves working with and through other people, and that success often hinges on how well individuals working within the organisation can coordinate their activities. Most of us work in roles which require the cooperation of others in order to accomplish our jobs, but the difficulty is that many of those other people we depend upon do not fall within our direct chain of command. It is therefore necessary to maintain an awareness of the ‘unofficial’ processes of power and influence that operate within an organisation.

(Source: Pfeffer, 1992, cited in B325, Organisational collaboration).

Politics within organisations

My personal experiences of politics in an organisational context are quite negative. In fact, the phrase ‘organisational politics’ to me, conjures up images of inter departmental game-playing, ‘buck passing’, and people hiding behind systems and processes. A good example is the way some members of influential business departments try to refocus blame on the IT department when the actual problem is the fact they are not adequately resourced to meet their own deadlines. Typically, these departments play a political card and claim they were not engaged early enough in the project for their aims and objectives to be considered. They are seen as legitimately powerful due to their central function, and can therefore have a significant influence on the outcome of project decisions.

This does seem to tie in with the B325 website’s outline of the political view of organisations: that the interactions taking place within them involve individuals and groups with differing interests and priorities, and that power is inherent in the decision making activity.

(Source: The Open University, 2012).