Here we are: it’s the beginning of a new project and we’re already concerned. We’re a virtual team of professionals brought together to help our new client launch a new technology. We all have our area of expertise, but we really don’t know each other. Right from the start, it’s obvious the client is under a lot of pressure to launch the technology seamlessly. One thing is clear. We’re all in it together. We must earn the trust of our client, but we also must trust each other. Where do we begin?
It turns out, trust can be built quickly if you consider all aspects of your relationship with others. In their book, The Trusted Advisor, Maister, Green, and Galford provide a framework to understand four primary components of trustworthiness:
Credibility: Technical expertise and authenticity
Reliability: Focus to deliver on promises
Intimacy: Emotional honesty and respect
Self-orientation: Degree of focus on the motives and goals of others
The authors summarize the relationship between these components in the Trust Equation:
What does this mean for us? As a project team, it was clear from the first internal meeting that each of us is an expert in our practice, and the client selected us for this reason. To be reliable, we must deliver quality and hit delivery dates—that is the first commitment we make to the client and to each other. We expect credibility and reliability in all professional relationships. However, to be trustworthy, we also must do well on the other components of the Trust Equation.
How do we establish a sense of intimacy as a virtual team? At the surface, the client is simply paying us to complete a project. However, intimacy is a key component of the trust equation. Quite frankly, intimacy is scary. We must be willing to take some risks, be vulnerable, and recognize that we are more than our deliverables. Each of us is a person trying to do our best for the client, and the client, in turn, is just trying to launch a new technology to make work easier for others.
Self-orientation is a challenge, as some members of the team are new and have a natural desire to have the right answers and be seen as adding value. After all, each of us is getting paid for our work and expertise. The client needs our advice, and we need the client’s knowledge of the organization. As a team, we all need to focus on the people who need to learn the technology and empathize with their concerns. Amid meeting critical deliverables, it is easy to focus too much on ourselves and forget what it’s all about.
So, fast-forward. What happened?
It would be nice to say the project was seamless and everything went exactly according to plan, but that rarely happens on large transformation projects, especially when a new technology is being implemented. The client faced a great deal more resistance than expected, and there was so much more to do than planned. The client needed more interim deliverables and much more quickly than we originally thought. At times, the challenges seemed insurmountable, and despite the experience of the team, we had to venture into new territory and work more extensively with the technology provider to answer questions the client didn’t even know to ask.
What made it all work?
We built trust. Not just with our client, but also internally as a project team.
Internally, there were challenges at the beginning. The added deliverables and truncated schedule created anxiety, frustration, and even confusion among members of the team. While each one of us had a primary focus, most of the deliverables required multiple leads to work together. It wasn’t enough to be competent and reliable colleagues; we had to work at orienting ourselves on the common business challenge of the customer. There was a strong desire to attain a solution, and collaboration was a challenge.
Team members had the tendency, at first, to speak from their own area of expertise without consideration for how to bring it all together into concise deliverables. We had to step back, but we didn’t know where to begin. Then, one team member took the risk and vocalized what everyone was feeling but afraid to say. The team member expressed fear—fear of meeting the timeline, fear of not producing what the customer needed, and fear that we didn’t understand the client’s needs as well as we thought we did. In that moment, things changed on the team. Others opened up and expressed their feelings as well. It somehow gave all of us the permission we needed to speak to the human side of work. We found a way to develop the intimacy we required to solidify as a team with a common purpose.
As we worked through our internal concerns, we questioned the need for some of the deliverables and brainstormed ways to help the client address the resistance among the end users. We also worked with the technology provider to understand why the implementation was more complicated than the client communicated. With our insight, we developed a set of recommendations to streamline the process and educate the client. It was a risk, but with the end-goal in mind, we knew that the original plan needed to change.
The client was surprised by our candor but agreed to our recommendations. The organization was struggling to meet its commitments, and the client was frustrated with some of the other stakeholders who were driving some of the decisions. Together, we were able to identify the biggest gaps and determine where more effort was required. In collaboration with the client, we were able to work with the other stakeholders and get their input and support. We helped our client achieve success within the organization, and ultimately, we helped the end users overcome their resistance to the technology.
In any relationship, trust is essential. By focusing on all four components of the Trust Equation, we established the deep relationships required to overcome the challenges of deploying the technology, and we built a lasting partnership with our client. Applying what you’ve learned from our experience, think about how a focus on trust can change your next project or initiative to produce the optimal outcome.