Entering the holiday season, we are looking back on what we have learned over the past year at TeamFit. One of the most important is the role of trust in consulting, success, team performance and building a valued consulting firm. This post builds on our VP Business Development Karen’s post on Trust in People.

Consultants earn trust by listening and then delivering. Listening and delivering both rely on trust. People will only tell you what really matters to them if they trust you. You cannot develop a good project specification without a basic level of trust. Imagine what a project requirements document would look like if every detail had to be specified in advance. Preparing that document would be as much work, or more, than the project itself.

 

How do we know what capabilities we people have?

Teams rely on trust. People on teams go the extra distance for the other people on the team (which can include the people from the client that they work with). Building trust between team members, especially people from different disciplines, is a core skill for a project leader. When I go over and check on TeamFit, I can’t find anyone claiming the ‘skill’ of ‘trust building.’ (LinkedIn does not make it easy to search on skills. You can do some exploring if you go to another person’s profile and tap through on one of their skills. I have not been able to find a person with the skill of ‘trust building’ but I am sure it is in there somewhere.)

Consulting companies must have a trusted relationship with their client in order to win ongoing work and to get through the inevitable rough patches that come up on projects. They build this trust in much the same way as individuals do, by demonstrating that they listen, that they will act in the client’s best interests ahead of their own, and that they will deliver compelling outcomes. Outcomes that are in the client’s best interest matter the most. High value is not created simply by meeting deliverables alone. Top consulting firms care about delivering the best outcomes to their clients.

So how do we build trust?

There is a standard model for this.

Trust = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self Orientation

This comes from David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford who introduced it in their 2001 book The Trusted Advisor. Let’s look at each of these terms.

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Credibility turns on our authority and the evidence we can provide to back up what we are saying. We build authority by refining, sharing and testing our experience.

Reliability is consistency in action, doing what we say we will do, again and again.

Intimacy is something a lot of people find difficult in the workplace as it relies on our EQ (emotional quotient). Something we are often not encouraged to develop in the workplace. But it is critical to team success. (See this article on Developing Emotionally Intelligent Teams.)

Self-Orientation dilutes all the work you do to build trust. If people think you will make decisions in your own interest first and only then consider what is important to them they will not trust you. When companies focus on short-term profit they struggle with this. Which is one reason why companies that are customer centric out perform those that are only concerned with shareholder value. See Roger Martin in HBR on The Age of Customer Capitalism.

TeamFit is built around the trust team members have in each other. SkillRank™ is one of the key metrics that TeamFit calculates. You can claim your skills but you rely on the people you work with to give you feedback on how well you executed on a specific project.

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Even more important, on TeamFit, you are encouraged to suggest skills to other people. This is critical as other people we work with often have more insight into our skills than we do ourselves.

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Some companies push back and say that they don’t trust people to rate each other honestly and would rather have managers do the rating. My experience has been very different. If you trust your team mates you trust them to give you honest ratings.

Trust goes the other way as well. In some companies, people are worried about the use that the company will make of skill data. As a result, they are reluctant to keep information up to date, exaggerate their skills and don’t talk about aspirations or the skills they are developing on non-work projects. This is a big loss on both sides.

TeamFit is trying to build trust between individuals and companies by changing how skill data is managed. Our position is that individuals should be able to own their own skill records and carry them with across their careers but that companies have legitimate reasons to control view of project details. See Managing HR Data to Create Value for All.

Trust building is a major theme for TeamFit Version 2 and we will be looking at how we can impact each variable in the trust equation. It would be great to have your insight into how we can best do this. You can e-mail me directly with your ideas.