Hello, I’m Michael Sliwinski, founder of Nozbe - to-do app for business owners and their teams. I write essays, books, work on projects and I podcast for you using #iPadOnly in #NoOffice as I believe that work is not a place you go to, it’s a thing you do. More…

Control is good but trust is better


The Germans have this saying: “Vertrauen ist gut, Kontrolle ist besser!” (“Trust is good but control is better”) which actually comes from Russian leader Lenin. While controlling and having control systems in place is a healthy business practice, I’d say in business relationships I prefer to trust people first and control them later.

Control is good but trust is better

In my company everyone works from home. We work like this because it’s a lifestyle choice. This way I can travel and work on my iPad from anywhere I want and my team can do the same… and I can hire people from anywhere I want, not depending on their proximity to my office.

In such environment we have two options: either we trust people to do their best and set up systems to enable them to excel… or we set up web cams in their homes, ask them to log hours, work on certain schedule, etc… Well, I chose the first option… but of course, things are not always that easy…

Treat people as adults

I know, this is a very controversial idea :-) In big corporations people are very often treated as “mindless cogs” that need to only do what is being asked of them. They must be controlled, manipulated and must not think.

When we had a new round of hiring in Nozbe and a few new people joined our team, they were not sure if they’re supposed to speak up or not. I told them that half of their salary is for their skills, and the other half is for their thinking. If they choose to only use their skills, not their judgement, I’ll just pay them 50% of their salary at the end of the month. Of course this never happened. They felt more empowered from this moment on.

Strive for transparency and openness…

It’s important to be upfront with each other. When working remotely we can hide not only our feelings but also our actual work. That’s why it’s important to communicate, not only through chat messages but mostly through tasks, projects and real actions.

… and communicate your expectations

This is key. To build trust and rapport with each other it’s so important to clearly communicate expectations. To really say: “I’d like you to be doing this, and by “this” I mean exactly this and that… are you OK with it?” When you leave things unspoken, everyone interprets things their own way, according to their own interests… and what comes out of it is not exactly a harmonious relationship.

Our trust/open framework

That’s why we built a trust/open framework: “You in our company”:

Build trust with gestures… the small and big ones

I’m trying to be thankful to my team every day for the hard work they’re putting in to build a fantastic productivity tool we’re running. Recently I wasn’t as available to them as I would have liked to be because I was swamped with work and email but I think I’m coming back.

We’re now in Barcelona on our yearly get-together all-company meeting and it’s so great to see everyone face to face. Such a trip is a big deal for our small company (and costs a lot of money) but it’s our moment to spend some quality time together, enjoy each other’s company and build trusting relationship for the future. This way none of us is just an “avatar” in our system, we’re all human beings with hopes and dreams working from home to help hundreds of thousands of people all over the world get things done. It does feel great.

Control is good but trust is really so much better

When you trust people they trust you back. When you don’t, your working relationship must come to an end. It’s still important to have “control measures” or “accountability indicators” like tasks and projects in Nozbe or GitHub, and keep on motivating and pushing each other but you can only be at your best only if you trust one another. This is especially crucial when people work from remote locations (our case) but I think it’s important in any professional environment.

Question: How do you build trust? Share your stories in the comments, if you can :-)

Friday, September 27, 2013 /trust/