How can we create strong teams and deliver project success by building client trust?

WSP’s behavioural specialists Honor Morris and Ffion Jones discuss how building trust within project teams makes them happier and more innovative … while increasing speed and reducing costs for clients.

Learning and Development Manager Ffion Jones and Senior Presentation Trainer Honor Morris work proactively with WSP’s project teams to develop and facilitate collaborative, interactive workshops to build client and stakeholder trust. These workshops are held with WSP clients, often from large, complex projects, across road and rail.

We asked them how, and why, they do it.

‘Trust is key to the performance and success of people and organisations.’

Honor: Our aim, in developing and delivering these workshops is to help people from WSP, our clients and subcontractors bond as one project team, thereby creating an atmosphere of trust. These workshops break down barriers, helping people to connect and speak with confidence in an atmosphere of psychological safety. In an open environment, innovation can flourish.

Ffion: Trust is key to the performance and success of people, and organisations. We see it in our workshops with our clients - people light up! One of our biggest challenges in the industry is when we have client and multi-partner working relationships across multiple organisations, each with its own entrenched behaviours and expectations. If something goes wrong, people often put up barriers and focus on their own concerns. It is best to establish and embed trust early in the relationship, to prevent that from happening.

The fastest way to establish trust

Ffion: There’s a lot of expert research out there explaining why it’s so important to focus on trust from the outset.

Honor: Stephen Covey Jnr, author of The Speed of Trust explains that; ‘Trust is the one thing which changes everything in relationships.’ He argues that we judge ourselves by our intentions – what we want to achieve and how we want to be perceived – and judge others by their behaviour towards us. The fastest way to establish trust is to keep our commitments to ourselves and others, no matter how small or apparently insignificant those commitments might be.

Establishing trust begins within the first thirty seconds 

Honor: In her new book Presence, US socio-psychologist Amy Cuddy describes how, when we meet someone for the first time, humans judge each other on the two main criteria of trust and competence. It’s known as ‘Pattern recognition’ – within 30 seconds you either think ‘yes; they’re like me, I can potentially trust this person’ – or ‘no thanks’. For cavemen and women, this judgement was a matter of survival: as humans we instinctively needed to know whether the person standing next to us was going to kill us, steal our possessions or light a good fire! Today the principles of trust and competence are still an integral part of how we forge relationships. This initial ‘warming’ to someone is the first step towards building trust. Demonstrating competence builds it further.

How to create the perfect team (you may be surprised)

Ffion: We often think bringing together people with the same skills, personalities or characteristics will create strong teams. But, when Google researched how to create a perfect team, they discovered the level of psychological safety was the single greatest correlate with a group’s success. Building trust creates an atmosphere of psychological safety within teams – where people feel safe to speak up about things that might go wrong, as well as ideas and innovations. Another expert, Patrick Lencioni, examines how, when there’s a lack of psychological safety and people are afraid to speak up, it can prevent productive conflict from happening – which is key to collaborative problem solving. So, helping our teams create a safe atmosphere in which they can express their views is also important. 

How having trust in yourself inspires and empowers others

Honor: Large public-sector projects can be long-running, with changing timelines and requirements. It’s easy to lose perspective. The sessions with our staff, clients and subcontractors allows everyone to take a step back and decide what is important to them, both individually and as a team. We examine how building trust within ourselves is crucial and how this can inspire and empower others. Within WSP, we use a tool called Strengthscope®, which helps people understand what they love to do and where they derive their energy. When you’re given work you love to do, this naturally inspires trust – because when you trust yourself to deliver something well, others trust you too.

Ffion: For organisations, building trust like this helps people work more effectively, increasing speed and reducing cost. For teams, you smile more together to get through challenges.

Our top three ways to build trust on projects...

Ffion: First, bring people together to understand each other’s motivations and ways of working, and avoid misconceptions at an early stage. Second, use conversational turn-taking, so everyone gets equal time to speak. Third, listen – turn off your phone and give others your full attention.

Honor: Having the full attention of the listener is a powerful tool for building trust because you feel respected – you can’t have one without the other.

… And why this is great news for the end user.

Honor: If you create an atmosphere of psychological safety – a direct result of trust – you come up with new solutions and foster a greater willingness to learn from mistakes. This unlocks creativity, so that the customer and the end user ultimately gets a better result.

Ffion: Our entire desire to build trust and collaborate with clients is about creating a better solution, project outcome and client experience together. We collaborate with our clients to plan, design and engineer our communities to thrive now and in the future.

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