Project management in the 21st century is a team sport, and trust in teamwork is crucial. Researchers and project managers agree on this point without debate, and while the point is settled, the ability to establish trust in a virtual setting presents unique challenges to the project manager. Virtuality is no longer bounded by the elements of geography, but is commonly found in the way people work. Co-workers often prefer a text or email rather than walking down the hall or talking across the cubicle wall.

This reality challenges even the best PM when phone calls are considered an inconvenience, and more than 70% of project participants are playing multiple roles; struggling to maintain task clarity and a line of thought. In the modern global project, task specialists are drawn together from offices scattered across the globe, pulling together the skills needed to swarm a priority project, expected to attack the goals as a cohesive unit. We expect the team to perform against global priorities and project deadlines like our favorite international athletes, and yet each of us is likely guilty of emailing a coworker to avoid an interruption.

Professional sport team members have learned through years of practice and collaboration, to trust one another. These team members rely upon one another to know their unique role and apply well refined skills when called upon. As the ball moves from member to member, each is ready and capable when their moment to step up and lead the team to success arrives.

Team members arrive at the game or office carrying with them a life time of experiences that build upon their early learning regarding trust worthiness, and what trust means to them. Personality-based trust provides the filter through which the individual perceives behaviors and situations as trusted or untrusted, and adjusts their own behaviors in response. As they work together, learning one another’s level of skill, common behaviors, and their place in the team, they become connected by common goals and a shared understanding of their vision for the future.

Discovery of one another creates the data set by which the team members develop the ability to choose to trust. They learn to trust in the capabilities of the team and develop a sense of connectedness with team members. Team members learn about their role in the team and establish a confidence in their place and the team’s ability to compete.

Project teams further develop confidence and their ability to succeed through their ability to discover information about other teams and their projects. They learn about acceptable behaviors and practices, and the most efficient and effective ways to manage common support processes. The team’s view of the organization and the consistent application of organizational rules and practices builds trust in the institution allowing the team to focus on their objectives and goals, and not on the struggle to get work done.

Trust is highly dependent on the ability of team members to discover enough information to make a cognitive decision to trust other team members, as well as members of teams working on dependent projects. Even in some of the best run organizations teams struggle to discover one another at a level that supports project dependencies. Due to this inability to learn about one another at the level in which work gets done, projects get out of synch and dependencies get missed until risks become realized problems and last minute adjustments are made to compensate causing major inter-organizational headaches and missed deadlines.

Organizations are challenged in this environment to provide the institutional level programs that develop and support trust by providing the knowledge gathering and data dissemination systems needed to ensure effective identification of useful information. Knowledge management, quality assurance (QA), and a targeted metrics development and analysis programs provide great opportunities for organizations to establish effective information discovery media while leading the teams toward goal attainment.

[ribbon-light]Author bio:[/ribbon-light]Dr Wise, PMP, ASQ-CQM, is a Quality Director with 20+ years’ experience in problem solving and process improvement in industry, including Nuclear Power, Finance, and Communications.  A professor with Villanova University, DeSales University, and University of Phoenix, Dr Wise teaches supplier and software quality, business research, and organizational and project management.