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By Duane Craig
December 3, 2018
Construction has a long history of adversarial business relationships with trust taking a back seat to self-preservation. When trust is missing in project relationships, its absence plays a major role in projects failing to hit their goals. Still, regardless of the delivery method, it is possible to create trusting environments in construction projects.
The Centre for Construction Innovation took a deep dive into the issue of trust in construction and found the industry's predominant business model makes it harder to achieve. Generally, the longer people work together, the better the chance of establishing deeply trusting relationships. However, in construction jobs, teams often change from project to project, disrupting the trust building process. The way projects are bid and awarded also tends to pit project participants against each other, causing another speed bump for developing and maintaining trust.
Building trust is still worth it, though. The Centre noted that trust helps speed up projects, and it saves money. You can reduce risks when project communications are trusted by all. Trust also helps people to be more flexible so they can roll with changes and information deficits.
You build trust by working together and solving problems in the best interest of the project. Sharing goals and supporting others' trusting behaviors also help. And, trust can only thrive when people and organizations avoid behaviors that undermine trust like telling lies and expecting people to sign unfair contracts.
The Enemies of Trust
People who rely simply on manipulation, power and control to bend the world to their will are primed to act strictly in their own interests, changing the rules as needed to prevail. You can't depend on them to consider the needs of others; they will probably view the trust you place in them as a weakness to exploit.
An organization can have a culture of distrust, just as a person can be untrustworthy. However, it is possible to develop company cultures of trust and to train people to trust while honoring the faith others put in them. The challenge comes from ingrained manipulative behavior, making it harder to build trust because it means subordinating some power and control.
While it's not a lost cause, you do have to exercise caution in dealing with people and organizations that have a trust deficit. If you can avoid such relationships, you can avoid the difficulty that comes with them. If you can't avoid them, then you need to take a measured approach to fostering trust. Give a little, and see what response you get. Gradually, if the other party reciprocates, you can increase the trust you are exchanging. If the other party doesn't want to play your game, then you might have to play your cards close to the vest and work around trust issues as they arise.
When people and companies embrace trust, there are things you can do to build it and keep it alive.
Adopting an open and honest approach to communication is a valid first step in building trust among project team members. Anything you do to make information clear and accurate helps to cement the idea of forthrightness. Whenever you eliminate the potential for surprises, you improve the trust quotient.
Collaboration is a second highly important aspect of fostering trust. You set the stage for trust to prevail when you ask for input and are willing to work together toward common goals. When you go a step further and help project team members reach their own goals, you strengthen the trust dynamic.
Keeping It Growing
Long-term relationships favor trust, so make your relationship-building efforts long term. This changes the business dynamic from one about transactions to one about relationships. It’s easier to apply trust to relationships than to transactions. If you take a short-term transactional approach to trust, it becomes conditional and based on what each party can get from trusting the other. This often leads to manipulation which, in turn, undermines trust.
A second aspect of keeping the trust flowing is transparency. The more open you are about your role in the project, the greater the return in trust. This is especially true in the collaborative delivery methods like design-bid-build and integrated project management. But, it also opens up greater possibilities of trust in the more traditional delivery methods. While nobody on a project expects to be an open book regarding certain information, for everything else, transparency helps build strong and trusting relationships.
Trust is a risky thing to give and a wonderful gift to receive. When you honor the trust others place in you and make it a regular part of your business, you stand to solidly improve project outcomes.
If you liked this article, here are a few eBooks and webinars you may enjoy:
How to Grow Your Business
How to Leverage Project Management Software for Small to Medium-Sized Business
Delivering Value Through a Robust Customer Experience
Beyond the Technical: The Soft Skills Needed to Succeed in Construction
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