I sometimes hear leaders claim the people don’t trust them. At times, they don’t even have a good handle on the amount of trust that exists. I’ve had leaders tell me they don’t trust their people.
So, who is responsible for trust on a team? Is trust the responsibility of the leaders? How does trust even happen?
Learning to trust
In a past life I worked as a Project Manager in the IT department of a large financial organization. This seems like a lifetime ago, but it is an essential part of my history.
As with many Project Management environments, there is a great deal of focus on planning, tracking and status reporting. For many companies, project management has become synonymous with control, compliance and governance.
When companies develop an over-reliance on controls and compliance they remove the need for trust. When this happens people are more likely to lay blame and justify than confront a problem. This is human nature we’re talking about as it’s in our wiring.
In the financial company I worked for, the CIO had some simple rules around status reporting. You were required to come to the steering committee when you were the same status colour for more than 3 weeks.
On the surface this policy might feel like a lack of trust. In some cases this might be a lack of trust, but with this CIO it was a brilliant leadership move to foster higher trust.
At the time, we were in a stressful and risky environment. We were working on integrating the systems of two large companies (one bought the other). What is the likelihood of not bumping into significant issues or risks?
It can leave a leader feeling vulnerable to report their project is struggling. To hide the problems would mean denying more senior leaders the opportunity to help. The CIO’s philosophy was that he wanted everyone to feel supported.
For this CIO, having you come to the steering committee meant the committee could normalize the vulnerability you were feeling. I went a couple of times when things were going good, and it was a great experience. In at least one case, the steering group supported me by helping me to see a blind spot.
Through this policy, the senior leadership fostered a culture of trust. People felt confident…