During my journey of exploration, in trying to determine how trust is used and perceived in the world of social partnerships, it has become intriguing to see that we depend on it more than we realise – despite having a limited knowledge of how it works.

In a social and economic context, the dependency on trust is ironic considering we live in a world where trust is diminishing – from governments to large corporate organisations but if it’s not, then the landscape is indeed shifting.

Edelman’s Trust reports from the last decade states we are more likely to trust “a person like me” than a political or business leader but the world we live in and everything we value, wouldn’t function without trust.

Maria Ana Neves

Maria Ana Botelho Neves

Guest blogger - Innovation & Branding Strategist

Show me the money

Let’s use money as an example and refer to Augusto Graziani’s ‘The Theory of the Monetary Circuit’. Once based on tangible assets such as gold, only five percent of the monetary economy of today is material – notes and coins – with little physicality to money it has to rely on trust.

Banks create money by issuing a loan to a borrower; they record the loan as an asset, and the money they deposit in the borrower’s account is a liability. Therefore, money is a third party’s promise to pay in exchange for goods and the two whose promises we accept, are the government and the banks.

We can apply the same way of thinking to brands, which are defined by the relationship between their promise (the brand) and its stakeholders – all built on perception and supported by trust.

A brand can represent an organisation (Oxfam, Red Cross or the NSPCC), a campaign (The Real Junk Food Project or Comic Relief), or product (the water we drink, the food we eat or the clothes we wear). But the brand value is a mix of tangible and intangible assets, with the level of brand trust being the most precious asset of all.

In business, and in particular cross-sector and cross-culture collaboration, trust is essential to create the partnership and the outcomes of the shared vision. However, this is extremely challenging as language, mindsets, attitudes and perceptions are the real challenges.

So, we’ve established that trust is one of the most precious and valuable assets in a partnership, but this has me asking a range of questions. What is trust and is it the same for everyone? How do we know when to trust and when not to trust? Do we build trust or just earn it? What are the key challenges in building trust within cross-sector collaborations?

A good approach is to find common interests with those we work with, invest time for conversations and reduce the focus on tasks at the early stages.

I don’t think I can provide all the answers. Instead, I would like to introduce a few challenges:

The procedure challenge

Best practice suggests you build trust through a set of predetermined procedures and transactions, such as signing confidentiality agreements, audits and credibility checks. These interventions must be carefully managed in a cross-sector collaboration, only because it can undermine trust, potentially creating a non-trustworthy culture. By all means consider these practices, nevertheless, check how the effectiveness of the results you achieve and consider alternative approaches which stimulate trust in people.

The integrity challenge

Another major element around trust is integrity. Someone once said to me: “Say what you do, do what you say, and say when you’ve done it: this is integrity, and how we build trust”. I’ve always been impressed by how often this approach failed and I include me in this – but why?

Working in a dynamic, ever-changing and ambiguous world requires a high degree of flexibility, creativity and the ability to adapt to dynamic synergies. Be extremely careful in defining what each other will do and acknowledge things could change at any time. The art of ‘doing’ and ‘feeding it’ with good communication will help the relationship and nurture the process.

The culture challenge

There are two types of trust-building: task-based trust and relationship-based trust, according to ‘The Culture Map – breaking through the invisible boundaries of global businesses’ by Erin Meyer, professor in Business Culture at INSEAD and expert in cross-culture relationships.

For task-based trust cultures, such as Australia, Germany, Scandinavia, US and the UK – Erin explains: “Trust is based on business activities and consistency in deliverables. There is very little or no investment in building personal and social relationships, which tend to be made and dropped quickly”. In task-based culture, it’s almost unthinkable and eventually considered a lack of respect to waste your business partners’ time in social conversations, having long lunches or spending time together for the purpose of getting to know each other.

At the other end of the spectrum, this is where trust is deeply rooted. In relationship-based trust cultures, including Brazil, China, India, Japan, Russia and Saudi Arabia – people are not willing to engage with others before they get to know the person and establish a human or social relationship with each other.

A good approach is to find common interests with those we work with, invest time for conversations and reduce the focus on tasks at the early stages. Cross-sector collaboration is an excellent opportunity to do so, and one can even open up this transformational opportunity to increase the empathy level in your team and organisation.

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