Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Trust – The Foundation of Collaboration

My friend, Rasul Damji, is a very reliable source of great ideas and resources. He recently made me aware of a simple, yet, profound, analysis of how trust is created and compromised. I have been dealing with issues of trust in a number of business relationships, and found that the insights provided within this article were timely, relevant and encouraging.

David Womeldorff of the Bainbridge Leadership Center in the State of Washington has kindly granted permission to share his insights with readers of The White Rhino Report. I was not able to reproduce a chart that is part of the original report. Otherwise, the report is as originally published by Mr. Womeldorff.

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Trust – The Foundation of Collaboration

David Womeldorff and the Bainbridge Leadership Center


Central to the success of any team is the quality of trust. It is the foundation upon which collaboration is built. Trust is a complex human phenomenon, which is comprised of at least two inter-related aspects: Intention and Capability. Both must be present for trust to be fully developed and present.


Intention has to do with perceived motives. When we feel positive about another’s motives, we believe what they say and assume they are authentic/ honest in their intentions. However, if we suspect the other is operating with ulterior motives, operating from a hidden or selfish agenda, displaying a win/lose mindset and/or saying one thing and doing another, we may well assume that manipulation and/or partial disclosure exists and, therefore, feel negatively about their intentions.


Capability has to do with another’s skill and ability to follow through on commitments and agreements. We positively regard another’s capability when we have witnessed directly and/or assume they have the skill and ability to do what they say that they will do.

We may question or feel negatively about another’s capability for several possible reasons: they may not possess the skills, abilities, and/or knowledge to do what’s required; they may have a demonstrated tendency to over-commit and then not follow through in the way or in the time to which they agreed; or they may lack the level of perseverance necessary to see a commitment through to completion.

The Grid

We can feel positively or negatively about another’s intentions and capabilities. Both must be positive for trust to be fully developed and present. However, sometimes we trust or feel positively about another’s intentions, yet are not comfortable with their capability. On the other hand, we may trust another’s capabilities, but not really trust their intentions. Given this complex interplay between intentions and capability, it may be useful to consider all the possible combinations of these two aspects of trust.


Trust exists when we feel positively about both another’s intentions and their capability. When we are engaged in relationships where true trust exists, there is a feeling of freedom. We know that agreements made are agreements that will be fulfilled. We also know that if conditions change in some unexpected way that impacts the other’s ability to follow through, they will bring the change to our attention in a timely way in order to “renegotiate” the agreement. We feel free to let go and trust. This results in action between us and the other(s) that is collaborative in nature.

In healthy, fully functioning relationships, trust is the foundation upon which interaction is built. As trust takes root, small mistakes are more easily reconciled when they occur because of that foundation. However, if slips happen, too often it causes one to begin to call into question either intentions or capability and a sense of betrayal may set in and begin to affect the health of the relationship. When a perception or felt sense of betrayal occurs, the relationship often falls into one of the other three conditions.


Doubt is the condition of a relationship in which we feel positively about the other’s intention, but negatively about their capability. When this occurs, we often feel frustration in our perceived lack of freedom to believe that what the other said they would do will get done. Our interactions with the other usually take the form of overtly or covertly evaluating or assessing their actions (or lack of action) The way back from DOUBT to TRUST is through increased clarity of expectations/agreements and the resources necessary for follow through. In the process of clarification, it may become apparent that the other needs training to build a skill that is required, they may need additional help or they may need to reprioritize other commitments. We may also find that our expectations are unrealistic and need to be modified. As we become clearer about our agreements, and commitments begin to be met with consistency, we can move toward true trust.


Vigilance is the condition of a relationship in which we know the other is fully capable, but we question and/or are not comfortable with their intention. This condition results in feelings of caution and, in the extreme case, fear. We then begin distancing from the relationship and/or hesitating to interact with the other(s). In order to move from a condition of VIGILANCE toward TRUST, full disclosure of intentions becomes critical. A commitment to win/win, mutually beneficial outcomes must be demonstrated. Mixed messages must become clear and consistent - we do what we say we will do. Our intentions match our actions, and the transition to trust becomes possible.


Distrust occurs when we decide we no longer feel positive about either the intention or the capability of another. Depending on how important the relationship is to us, we may feel grief that trust does not seem possible and/or a sense of resignation that the relationship “has come to this.” When we are in a relationship in this condition, we find ourselves disengaging as much as possible and dismissing whatever the other says they will or will not do. When we are in a relationship of DISTRUST, we usually face a deep chasm, which must be overcome if we are ever to reach a state of TRUST. First and foremost, we must make a decision: do we choose to invest the time and energy that will be required to transform the relationship or do we end the relationship?

If our choice is to transform the relationship, we must work to recover or rebuild the trust of both intention and capability by taking the actions described in DOUBT and VIGILANCE. Often the transformation that must occur requires the help of a skilled professional to facilitate the healing and rebuilding process. The reality is that such a transformation is not possible until all parties involved consciously commit to the investment of time and energy.

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Many thanks to David Womeldorff and the Bainbridge Leadership Center for permission to use this material. I commend you to their excellent Website.

Al Chase

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