How to enhance trust within a collaboration | Article

Trust has long been seen as a prerequisite for a successful collaboration. Consultants have broken down trustworthiness into an equation with four elements: the sum of credibility, reliability and intimacy divided by self-orientation. In other words, if you show me you are credible, reliable, intimate (i.e. kind and friendly), and not selfish, I will trust you a lot. If you are dubious, unreliable, distant, and self-centred, I won’t.

Those working in collaborations can build up trust between partners through the following steps:

Start the process early

A way of having rapid access to trust is by building it among collaborative partners in advance. Practitioners have described this as; ‘making friends before you need them’. Business networks may create pseudo-reasons to work together on a project, with the real intention of bringing partners together so they have a good working relationship when a substantive opportunity for collaboration presents itself.

Embrace small wins

‘Small wins’, is a process where trust is built as a by-product of the act of collaborating. The outputs of small wins can be derided as things like ‘painting fences’, but even achieving something basic and very minor is a starting point shows goodwill and realises a tangible output. If a very modest achievement is only the first step in a more ambitious effort, then it should not be derided, especially if the initial level of trust is low. Small wins in the early stages allow partners to limit their resource commitment, reducing their risk until they have more confidence in the collaborative endeavour.

Share information between collaborative partners

Information sharing builds trust. By committing to share information, partners show that they are genuine about collaborating, whereas being guarded and protective about an organisation’s information can create distrust. Sharing information helps build shared motivation because participants engage collectively in defining a problem and discovering how it could be solved collectively. Therefore, the formative act of sharing information to start addressing the problem has an immediate outcome of developing trust between the collaborating partners.

Learn more about how to make a collaboration successful in WIG’s Collaboration Playbook, researched and written by the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government. 

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