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What is Your Pattern of Reliability?

career growth leadership pm pmo problem solving project management Mar 15, 2023
What is Your Pattern of Reliability?

Kim Essendrup is the CEO and co-founder of, founder of The Kolme Group, and co-host of the Project Management Happy Hour podcast. Kim also has the distinguished honor of being a two-time guest on The PMO Squad’s Office Hour Podcast! (Episode 5 and Episode 100).  

In early 2023, he gave a TEDx Talk at UNC Pembroke called “Building Resilient Relationships with Trust Bricks.” It’s an excellent talk and well worth a listen. But, if you don’t have 17 minutes right now, we thought we’d provide you with a quick summary of his insightful talk. 

The Challenge 

Kim is a professional project manager who struggled over the years to build teams with people he did not know, often had never met, and may not have even liked. Sound familiar? The days of projects like hunting a wooly mammoth with teammates you grew up with are long gone. Professional project managers must now bring teams of people together, establish relationships in short-order, and get results quickly. 

How can this be done? By building trust. 

Three Ways to Build, or Break, Trust 

Kim offers the analogy of two different bridges. One bridge is built with hundreds or thousands of interlocking bricks. This bridge is strong! If a section of the bridge is damaged, there are more than enough bricks to carry the weight of any burden traversing across the top. In contrast, a second bridge is composed of one or two monolithic slabs of stone. This bridge is weak! The entire bridge would crumble and be rendered useless if just one stone is damaged or cracked. 

Relationships operate the same way. Each brick that we use to build our relationship bridge with team members represents a successful interpersonal transaction. It’s simple. If you say you are going to do something and do it, you’ve added a trust brick. If you say you’re going to do something, and then you don’t do it, your relationship bridge is damaged. 

Kim offers these three suggestions on keeping your bridge strong. 

  1. Build Your Trust Bricks - Be conscious of keeping your commitments. Let your yes mean yes. It’s okay to start small. Show up to every meeting on time, deliver a report when you said you would, and send an email when expected. That’s all you can do early on in new relationships, so start building your bridge quickly with trust-building commitments.  
    Over time you will establish a pattern of reliability. This means that at some point in the future if you do show up late, or miss a deliverable, or don’t follow through on a commitment, people will give you the benefit of the doubt. “She never does that…,” they will say, dismiss it as a one-off, and trust will be maintained. 
  2. Understand that Bricks Can Be Unmade - The opposite is also true. If commitments are made and then not met, it’s like taking a sledgehammer to the bridge every time a commitment is not honored. “I’m only ten minutes late to this meeting,“ or “Nobody will miss this week’s status report” are sure-fire ways to destroy your relationship bridge and undermine the trust you’ve established. 
  3. Trust Bricks are Being Made, or Unmade, Whether You Know It or Not - Expectations are being set all the time with or without us. Kim gave an excellent example of how this works. He says, “Pretend I’m Oprah and I’m giving each of you a brand-new car. Go ahead and picture it in your mind.”  The audience closes their eyes and pictures the car they are receiving. Kim continues, “Did you picture a red, Italian, sports car?” and pulls out a small red matchbox car out of his pocket. Not quite what the audience had in mind. 
    This misalignment of expectations happens all the time when it comes to establishing trust. The lesson? Set appropriate expectations so your relationship bridge remains strong. 

Trust in the Context of Projects, and Beyond 

Kim wraps up with the fact that trust bricks not only apply in the context of projects, but everywhere in life–with managers and colleagues, personal relationships, and especially families. Trust matters everywhere and to everyone. 

So, in everything you do, look to see if you are building trust or tearing it down. The pattern of reliability you establish will go a long way in delivering projects that create value.  

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