Custom software development involves a lot of uncertainty and unknowns. The relationship between a project team and a client hinges on a seemingly intangible element — trust. This trust (or lack thereof) has an immense impact on a team’s creativity and ability to navigate uncertainty, as well as efficiency and output. Let’s take a closer look.
A Trust-Deficient Environment
What happens when there is an environment riddled with doubt and second guessing? It can wreak havoc on our ability to think clearly and focus on the task at hand. Instead of focusing on moving through a problem together, you spend time thinking about covering your ass and second-guessing ideas instead collaborating and building on them. It slows team productivity and sucks a lot of the joy out of creating solutions.
Let’s get a little scientific (woot!) – when our bodies are in a trusting (safe) environment, our central nervous system is able to exist in a parasympathetic state. This allows us to fully maximize the centers of our brain responsible for critical thinking and creative problem solving. We’re better at what we do! On the flip side, when our bodies sense they’re in an unsafe environment (lack of trust/adversarial) our nervous system flips into a sympathetic state. Our fight or flight defenses flare up and turn off our prefrontal cortex. This physiologically handcuffs the most important area of a team’s brains. I could go on (our autonomic nervous system is pretty amazing) but you didn’t come here to read a scientific journal. Just in case though, here is a good one.
EEG recordings of the autonomic nervous system.
Benefits of Trust
Projects without trust are rough, but hoo-boy, is the opposite true when things are humming. Open and honest communication, mutual respect, and a transformation of “us vs. them” thinking to a collective “we” are a few of the benefits of trust. Operating in shared trust allows everyone to focus on solutions rather than worrying about blame. Do you know that feeling when everyone is collectively riffing on a complex solution? It’s magic. The project becomes a shared journey in problem-solving where the whole team works together towards a collective goal.
I’m not making the case that things can’t be hard and that every meeting needs to end with a chorus of kumbaya. Custom software is hard, and conflict will happen – every project I’ve been a part of in my career has had difficult moments. It is the bedrock of trust (or lack thereof) that has a profound impact on how those moments are navigated, how people are treated, and ultimately how successful the project is.
By cultivating trust, we build bridges between teams and clients and create an environment conducive to exploration, innovation, and solutions. Trust might not be easy to quantify or report against, but it sure will have a measurable impact on a project’s outcome.