Building trust in a consortium project is not about being nice

 

 

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What do flight crews and research consortia have in common?

They are both made up of teams that have to trust one another. Although the consequences of a low trust environment in a plane are a bit more severe. 

Can you build trust when you do not talk with each other?

Can you build trust when you do not make an effort to listen and understand the perspective of others?

Can you build trust when you avoid areas of tension or conflict?

The answer to all of these is obviously, no.

Don't be nice

While it is clear talking and listening are necessary, it's easy to avoid areas of tension or conflict. When you are working in a consortium, and you really want it to work, you may make an extra effort to be nice.

You might think that avoiding conflict and tension will help to build trust, but the opposite is true.

I can honestly say that I have never seen a situation where an honest and open dialogue about tension or conflict led to a deterioration of the collaboration.

It is always the opposite.

The collaboration improves.

Even though it is not being said, you know when someone is holding something back. Their lack of transparency degrades your trust.

The motives you imagine behind someone's behaviour are almost always worse than what they are in reality. When you really know someone's motivation, it is much easier to trust them.

Tensions and conflicts are opportunities to uncover everyone's real motives.

As long as you are genuinely open to understanding the perspectives of others, having a dialogue about the tensions or conflicts that are taking place can only build trust, not degrade it.

When you are working in a consortium project trying to accomplish an ambitious goal, you need to trust those you are working with.

Trust is the framework for collaboration.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers points out that one the reasons that the number of airline crashes has decreased is the realisation that mitigating language can markedly diminish the benefits of having more than one person flying a plane. 

Mitigating language is when you are less direct in your communication because you are afraid of offending someone. 

"Would you be willing to..." instead of "I want you to do this." 

Mitigating language is too open to interpretation. The communication becomes less clear. 

Gladwell describes some chilling accounts where the use of mitigating language resulted in misunderstandings that resulted in catastrophic crashes of perfectly functioning airplanes. 

It is not just emergency situations that clear communications matter. They matter anytime you want to build trust. Trust is the framework of collaboration. 

So, when you find yourself avoiding a conflict in a consortium meeting, remember that counterintuitive way to build trust is to turn towards on tensions and have difficult conversations.

Scott Wagers

"The Consortium Whisperer" Physician and researcher who has spent the last 12 years engaged in developing biomedical R&D consortia, as well as designing and supporting the delivery of consortium based projects.

No matter who you are, you can, and you should innovate through consortia. They are the only way to make a big difference to the future of medicine. Want to find out how? Get in touch.