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Trust in the Virtual World February 27, 2010

Posted by stewsutton in Collaboration, Communications, Community, Humanity, Identity.
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I’ve been having some interesting conversations lately related to the level of trust that can be accepted from a virtual-only professional relationship.  Can you truly have a deep and enduring trust relationship with a person who you have only “met” online?  I think that the simple answer to that is no and let me offer a defense for that position.

  1. Most companies have recognized that deep trust between team members sometimes requires a “bonding” session of physical “person-to-person” interaction.  These activities can often take the form of different “social” engagements ranging from “horseback riding” to “downhill skiing time trials” to the more traditional “dinner with colleagues”.
  2. At most every MBA program that I am aware of, a key facet of the “bonding” and “trust” formulation for a newly entering class, there is the traditional “weekend” retreat.  This forces participants to “open up” to one another and through observations and exchange of personal information during the long weekend, the classmates have a baseline from which to conform useful and productive procedures for team-based coursework.
  3. Some of the most successful “high-performance” project teams have typically initiated “retreats” in advance of the collective team work in support of the project.  This very casual face-to-face (multi-day) adventure allows individual members of the team to become aware of the personal side of their colleagues by observations made during face-to-face activity.

Clearly all of these techniques are costly and yet that are commonly used where building trust relationships really matters.  So the big question hanging out there is Why?  Are these examples just illustrations of scenarios where the modern 2.0 technique has not been put into action?

I suspect that is not the case.  However, I also believe that once two or more people come to know each other through face-to-face social activity, they will be inclined to transact business activity through virtual (online) methods (web conf, instant message, email, blog, wiki, video chat, etc.) with a sufficient measure of trust.  However, the occational “booster shot” of a physical social gathering will properly charge the trust battery for scenarios where extended virtual collaboration has become the preferred transactional method.

Under what circumstances can we sufficently trust and and fully engage with others that we have only come to know in a virtual / online way?  Are these collaborative transactions left to activities that we value as simple commodities?  Or does a sort of “online reputation” play an increasing role in 2.0 trust between collaborators?  What does everybody think?

Trust, Boundaries, and Community Value September 16, 2009

Posted by stewsutton in Collaboration, Community, Knowledge Management.
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The value of a community.  A real community that openly shares with each other.  A community where you get to know what works well and what is not so good…  That kind of community where truth is shared will always have defined boundaries and deep trust between members.  Let’s explore both concepts briefly.


Boundaries offer a community an essential focus.  It’s not as if everything is to be discussed here.  The things we will share will in high probability be focused within the boundaries.  That just makes it easier to think about what you want to share in that channel and everybody that attends that community will tend to have some common expectations.  Those common expectations will more likely be satisfied by the shared dialog creating a community experience that is satisfying to the members.


It’s difficult to share truth without trust.  What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas speaks to a larger principal of professional trust.  If I put myself at risk and share some information that makes me vulnerable, that is trust.  The sort of trust that in animals would be akin to exposing my soft furry belly to you for a quick rub.  While I don’t typically expose my belly to my collegues, the verbal exchange offers a similar level of risk exposure when I initiate the trust relationship.  The initiation of the trust relationship by exposing your weaknesses and failings offers a channel for more open communications.  A dialog based on trust.  A community with trust has conversations of value.