Building High Team Trust

I've written in the past about my interaction with 42Projects and Trust 2.0, a pair of closely-related grassroots programs at Microsoft. (See my article on Microsoft's Trust 2.0 Initiative.)

The goal of 42Projects and Trust 2.0 is to promote greater innovation by strategically and purposefully building trust.

Yesterday I had lunch with Ross Smith, the architect behind this effort, and Brian Lounsberry, one of the first at Microsoft to see the potential of the concept. Three years into the initiative, I wanted to find out if higher trust was indeed yielding greater innovation.

Ross answered with an unequivocal "Yes!" He cited example after example to substantiate the correlation between high trust and expanded innovation within his team. Then our conversation turned to specific techniques that the team has used to enhance trust.

One method particularly intrigued me. They call it "Trust Subversion Analysis." Instead of focusing on what builds trust, this approach focuses on behaviors that subvert it. Armed with this analysis, the team then establishes an alternate set of behaviors to replace the subversive ones.

Why this approach? Because it's often easier to identify the essence of a quality if we examine what happens when it's missing.

To make this analysis more meaningful, the team decided to deal with only one aspect of trust-building at a time. They began with the need to foster an atmosphere of respect.

Rather than listing behaviors that communicate respect, they compiled a list of behaviors that leave people feeling disrespected. This list quickly became extensive.

Each team member then identified the three behaviors from the list that he or she had noticed most often in team meetings. When the results were tallied, the three most common subversive behaviors were 1) dominating the conversation; 2) not being inclusive; and 3) not listening or paying attention.

The team then flipped these behaviors around — reversed them so to speak — to create a set of behavioral standards for themselves. The desired behaviors became 1) Don't dominate; 2) Be inclusive; and 3) Pay attention/listen.

For each of these standards the team spelled out specific behaviors that they would expect of themselves. These behaviors have become rules of engagement for team interaction.

Ross and his colleagues are writing extensively about their experience. When their assessment is published, I hope to provide links to their seminal work both here and at

I've shared this preliminary summary because their methodology is so simple and straightforward that any organization can do something similar. You don't need to start with respect. Feel free to pick some other aspect of trust-building. If your results are anything like the outcomes on Ross' team, the exercise will clearly be worth the effort.

Incidentally, if you are interested in knowing more about what Ross and his team have done, check out the 42 Projects web site.

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