Trust in networks is different than trust in organizations or coalitions where it is essential to spend time building trust among everyone because the relationships are likely to be long-term.
However, networks often have hundreds or even thousands of participants and it is not possible for everyone to know everyone else in the network, let alone have the time to build deep relationships. People in self-organizing networks are often involved in a number of collaborative projects at any one time, but these projects are often of short duration with little time to build deep trust, and after the end of the project they may not work with those individuals again.
For this reason, people in networks need to learn how to build swift trust. Swift trust, explored by Debra Meyerson and colleagues, means that the participants of a collaborative project interact as if trust were present.
Several things make establishing swift trust easier. First, when a few of the collaborators have had previous experience working together, they can set the tone or standard of trustworthiness that others buy into. For example, they can model openness, appreciation and other qualities that help everyone be more trustworthy.
Another key to swift trust is the communications ecosystem and values. By agreeing to be transparent and make all their work easy to observe and be accessed by others, it’s easy for all participants to see that others are doing the work they said they would do. That’s why it’s so important to use tools like google docs and set up task and timeline spreadsheets, a place for meeting notes and a budget and expense spreadsheet. Slack is another tool that helps people see what others are doing.
Another essential ingredient of swift trust is taking time to clarify roles in the project based on specific expertise. For example, I am in a collaborative project where one person is responsible for developing content, another for the tech aspects of the virtual sessions, and other for the communications. This doesn’t mean that each person does all the work in their area – in fact, we often work together on content – but one person is responsible for moving that part forward. The clearer the roles are to everyone, the less conflict is likely to occur.
As in any situation, it’s always important to take time to help people know each other: even if the group is working virtually, it’s easy to set up breakout rooms in zoom.us where smaller groups or dyads can share about themselves. If the project has a convener, it’s helpful for them to state values such as “We are all unique, and each of us has quirks or things about ourselves that can affect our work. For example, one person has a child with a chronic illness; another person may be very introverted. We need to get to know people so that we know about these things and realize the parent may be called away from work to care for the child and we need to make sure the introverted person has space to talk.”
Having skills in dealing with a person when they do not do what they have agreed to do is essential. People quickly become more reliable if small infractions are dealt with immediately and directly (often through a one on one conversation).
If someone proves to be difficult to work with or untrustworthy, they will find that they are not included in future network collaborations. This is a powerful incentive for most people to contribute as positively as they can. Word of mouth that occurs in the network means that effective contributors will find they are frequently sought after for projects.
Undergirding swift trust is a set of network values and understandings – things such as openness, transparency, acceptance of difference. Network weavers can help ensure that most network participants are aware of these values.