Working With External Teams: Why Trust Must Come First

Every week we talk to people about new projects and after a few introductory meetings there is usually a full project briefing. I noticed that some of those briefings go a lot smoother than others, and I started wondering why.

It seems to me, that the main difference is the level of trust between the parties. If all parties enter with a clear understanding of their requirements and goals, and a willingness to clearly explain them to the other parties, they have a higher likelihood of achieving the best outcome possible. Honesty and trust are key.
When I talk about trust and honesty I mean person-to-person, team-to-team. No amount of legal paperwork will ever generate those feelings, only communication. It takes time to understand and trust another person, but that time will be well spent. If you can’t talk openly and honestly about the project, then you’re likely going to end up wasting your time.

In my experience if you ask the right kind of questions it doesn’t take long to know what kind of team or person you’re dealing with. Some great questions to ask are “Tell me about yourself and the company”, “How do you manage clients and projects?”, and “Tell me about some of your recent projects?”. If you really listen to what the person talks about, you should develop a fairly accurate gut feeling about them: Were they open and honest? Were they excited and passionate? Did the projects sound too perfect or realistic ? Were their successes based on their client’s successes? Did they bad-mouth previous collaborators? Were they evasive or patronising?

This process is a two way street. Good companies want to work with good clients, so if they aren’t putting out feelers of their own, that can also be a red flag. If you can’t trust each other for some reason, acknowledge the concerns and work to fix that issue. This can potentially be done by talking to references, having a coffee (beer), or asking them to run you through one of their previous projects in depth. Another great tip can be to have a meeting and get other members of their team involved; maybe you’ll see them more clearly in how they interact.

At the end of that process if the issue of trust can’t be resolved then it’s probably time to part ways. On the other hand, if you have established that base trust then it’s time to get into the project itself, I guarantee that project briefing will be productive and easy.

One last common trap that we see new clients fall into is not wanting to send out any documentation or technical requirements in advance of a face-to-face meeting. I can see why it’s appealing: you get to see the other person’s gut reaction and see how much they know about the topic. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Firstly, by this stage trust should already be established, so there’s no need for tests. If you still feel like you need to test the other party, it may be to early to have the briefing and it may be better to continue to build your relationship.

Secondly, your project is complex which is why you are hiring external specialists. Solving complex problems is a process of working through the specifications and constraints with respect to the budget, technologies and creative direction. Your time is valuable, and by giving those specialists what they need to prepare, they can make sure that the meeting stays on point and you get all the information you need.

The external team also needs to enter into and respect that trust. For this reason, even before they are officially engaged, a good team will bring their A-game to the meeting. They’ll endeavor to find any problems in the project and bring solutions, and aims to add as much value to the project as they can from that very first meeting, regardless of your decision to hire them.

So our advice is choose to work happily and productively, find great people that you can trust and who trust you, and before you book that project meeting make sure you’re happy to work with the people you’re talking to.

We’d love to hear about any tips, tricks or traps you’ve encountered working on complex projects or with other teams, so leave a comment and tell us what went down!