Trust, with special guest Dan Oster

These next few posts are going to take a little change in direction. Up until now, I’ve been talking about the right or wrong way to be a project manager while doing research and finding related expert opinions. Now, I’m going to be doing some interviews with project managers from a wide variety of industries and fields. The goal is two-fold. First, to garner valuable insight into those practicing project management on a daily basis; real world examples and expertise. The second is to show that in some sense, we are all project managers, in our occupations, in how we interact with people and in our family.

So, without delay, my first interview was with Dan Oster. Dan is one of the principles of NAI Alliance, a commercial real-estate brokerage firm. Dan is also an adjunct professor at the University of Nevada. I met with Dan over lunch and we talked at length about some of the keys to successful project management and he utilizes those keys affectively towards the success of the project. But more important, how he uses them towards the betterment of the people on his team.

When we first started talking Dan brought up some principles that he tries to build his projects on 5 Dysfunctions of a Teamand those stem from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Those five distinctions can be seen in the sketch to the right but what our conversation really focused on was the foundation of the pyramid: the Absence of Trust. I asked Dan: “So, how does trust affect the management of your projects?”

Dan: “Projects success or failure is based on this foundation of trust. If you don’t have trust in the other person or trust in the other members of the team, over time, instead of spending time solving problems together, you’re going to spend time blaming each other for what went wrong.”  Elton: What a great and very true statement. This type of breakdown can lead to that Fundamental Attribution Error (Blame) and a Self-Serving Bias.

Other Expert’s Input: In 5 Dysfunctions of a DevOps Team: Absence of Trust, Steve Hall wrote a great piece that relates to mine and Dan’s conversation. For now, I just want to pull the exert Steve uses from the book: “The first dysfunction is an absence of trust among team members. Essentially, this stems from their unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.” Okay, now that we have the “clinical” definition let’s get back to the interview.

After we talked about the problem, I asked Dan: “Is there any special ways you establish trust in the beginning so that those things we’re talking about don’t happen later. Are there any kind of tactics that you take with your team and or your clients?”

Dan: “Certainly, early on in a project there comes a point where you have to make your first deliverables and I think those are the most important deliverables no matter how small they are in the project. Whether or not they influence the final work product or not, those first deliverables are all about building that trust on the team. So, if there is ever an opportunity to go above and beyond, take it at the beginning. The earlier you can produce something great, that’s where you’re going to build trust, that’s where you’re going to build confidence in the project. Then, later on down the line, when something comes up, goes wrong, a change occurs, or there’s a disagreement in the direction of the project, if you’ve established trust you can work through it together.” Elton: This ties back to something said in the beginning of this post, when you’re at this point in the project, when things go wrong, you’re either going to be working through it together or you’re going to be finger pointing.

At this point in the interview Dan was kind enough to mention my blog. Dan says: “I noticed you’ve talked about how things go wrong, specifically groupthink. I think groupthink is another symptom of a team that doesn’t have trust. If I don’t believe that I have a trusted place in the team, and in the project, then I’m not free to disagree. I’m only free to agree with the direction that the leader says I have to go. And so what accumulates over time is that I didn’t get my say, I didn’t get a chance to disagree, and then inside I’m going to feel I’m not accountable for that at all. I knew it was wrong from the beginning.”

Other Expert’s Input: In This post is the first in a five part series about the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni Ashly Moyer says:Trust serves as the foundation for effective teamwork. Without trust, teams are dysfunctional and unable to accomplish tasks in an effective manner. With a strong foundation of trust, teams can work through conflict, establish clarity, hold each other accountable, and achieve results.” This aligns directly with what Dan’s is talking about and reinforces this idea that at the base of Lencioni’s pyramid, trust is so critical. But let’s get back to Dan and see how he wraps it up.

Interview with Dan OsterDan:  “So, really for me that’s a great paradigm, to start with this: let’s build trust, let’s establish it early. I think that that’s one of those secret sauces that goes into a project. When you go: ‘how did that one work? And that one didn’t?’ Or: ‘why is it so much easier to work with my friends?’ Well you trust your friends. And why is it sometimes a group of really disparate backgrounds, professional levels, and income levels or whatever you want to say, how is it sometimes they come together and work and sometimes they don’t? Well, I would think the difference between those two is that any group that comes together and focuses on their trust first can succeed. And any group, no matter how much you think they should work together can fail if they don’t trust each other. So that to me is the crucible.”

Other Expert’s Input: In a post The First Dysfunction of a Team – Absence of Trust by D’Arcy from Winnipeg, it first says: “If you don’t have Trust you’re screwed.” Okay, I think that point had been driven home but a little further down is says: “Trust ultimately starts with each one of us…but implementing Trust individually in an atmosphere of un-trust can be daunting…maybe even dangerous. Involve the team leaders, involve your co-workers, and ultimately gauge whether the team you’re on is worth trying to save. Of course, if you don’t think they are then maybe it’s time to find a new team.” That is a solid wrap up to what we’re talking about here and it reinforces what Dan said and to reiterate: “So, if there is ever an opportunity to go above and beyond, take it at the beginning. The earlier you can produce something great, that’s where you’re going to build trust.”

A few final notes that Dan and I discussed to wrap this up. When there’s no trust, the team breaks down and it can be fatal. So, in your team create an atmosphere where healthy conflict can take place. Where team members feel safe to disagree and propose contrary opinions. When these types of opinions are encouraged, then the group’s goal has a chance to be bought into and there will be higher levels of accountability. I want to thank Dan for his time and insight into this critical component of any project, trust.

Image Credits: Sketch and photo by author


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