I think that trust may be the most important factor, or hurdle, in developing a successful collaborative partnership.  Just to make it interesting, trust is the most difficult to develop and maintain.  There are so many factors involved in developing and maintaining trust in a relationship that it can feel a little overwhelming and lead to a lot of frustration.  It can lead to a lot of frustration simply because it can be so easy to wipe away any gains simply with an inadvertent comment or innocent act.  Trust is built slowly and can easily be impacted in the early stages by inadvertent or innocent acts.

Let’s start with an example to show how easy it can be to lose trust.  You are just starting a partnership and developing the basis for collaboration.  In this time one of the partners is hesitant to share some pertinent information to the partnership but doesn’t explain up front that they are holding back and the reason for holding back.  Then lets say that the partner at some point in the near future discovers that the other partner has been holding back.  This simple act, especially during the early stages of the partnership can destroy the trust.  This whole issue could have been avoided simply by each partner being up front about the information they would and would not share.

Another killer of trust is passive-aggressive behavior.  Passive-aggressive behavior is not only a killer of trust, it is also a killer of partnerships and relationships in general.  This however is much harder to overcome.  Passive-aggressive behavior is the personal reaction to the lack of trust in a relationship with a little twist.  This twist is what I think of as the ‘I told you so’ part of the reaction that I view as a foundation of the passive-aggressive behavior.  Passive-aggressive behavior can be the greatest hurdle to overcome simply because of the ‘I told you so’ behavior.  This behavior is difficult to overcome because it starts from an extreme level of distrust and then builds the case, or cases, to prove why it is appropriate not to trust. 

I think the there is a simple method to overcome these hurdles to trust and that is the practice to assume innocence.  I’ve discussed this previously and the importance to building trust is the greatest benefit this practice can bring.  There is also a second practice that is foundational to building trust, and that is open and honest communications.  Both of these practices however can be easily negated by passive-aggressive behavior.  Passive-aggressive behavior can be extremely hard to identify initially and then once identified it can be extremely hard to overcome.  This behavior can be a collaboration partnership killer that I think can only be overcome through open and honest communication.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you considered the impact of words on your team culture?  How do phrases and gestures add to your communications?  How do you build a cross cultural relationship?  Have you dealt with an overseas outsourcing provider?  How did you navigate the communication and cultural differences?