Building Trust the Mutual Learning Model Way

Someone once told me that you can’t really build trust. Instead trust develops as the result of working with others on a project. Certainly trust can be developed and/or enhanced through working with others. However, trust can also be depleted or destroyed by working with others. It is not just the experience of working with others that automatically leads to trust. It must be a conscious effort to build trust while working with others.

This is where I believe the Mutual Learning Model can impact the trust level within groups. By being intentional and creating the conditions for mutual learning trust can be developed. Just working together is not enough to build trust. We must also pay attention to how individuals work together. It starts with the understanding that beliefs and values are critical to mutual learning and the development of trust.

To create the conditions for mutual learning and the development of trust, a facilitative leader needs to share and practice the core values, principles, and ground rules that make up the framework of the “Mutual Learning Model.” It is also more than just sharing. It is necessary to have a dialogue with others about these values, principles, and ground rules. By doing so we are causing individuals to explore what they mean, to examine how they work, and to identify the barriers that prevent us from using them.

With this kind of dialogue groups can begin to explore and identify how the individuals will be interacting and relating to one another. With this set of operating guidelines, the work group becomes intentional about the way it plans to carry out the task. By being intentional and holding each other accountable for these values, principles, and ground rules, individuals begin to live out the “Mutual Learning Model.” Individual members of the group can now become transparent and make free and informed choices. When individuals make free and informed choices from the information that in relevant and available, he or she is more likely to become more committed to the task or cause. When individuals are more committed they have more trust in the group and the outcome.

So, if creating more trust within the group or organization is needed, then the “Mutual Learning Model” as described by Roger Schwarz in his book, The Skilled Facilitator, can provide a great framework of how to build that trust. The core values, the principles, and the ground rules can provide the descriptions of how to behave within the group. Discussing and practicing the values, principles, and rules will result in a learning environment that will develop or enhance the trust desired for better group effectiveness.

And what are those values, principles, and rules?

The skilled facilitator approach is based on the following four core values:

  • Valid information- all relevant information is shared
  • Free and informed choice- people define their own objectives and methods for achieving them, there is no coercion or  manipulation
  • Internal commitment- people feel personally responsible for their choices, there is personal accountability
  • Compassion- people are concerned and caring about others and suspend judgment

The skilled facilitator approach offers the following principles to guide behavior:

  • Being Transparent- sharing reasoning and intentions (share what you are thinking and feeling)
  • Being Curious- genuinely interested in what others are saying and understanding how they are thinking
  • Thinking and acting systemically- being accountable for the system as a whole and not just your part
  • Increasing accountability and ownership without being dependent- build the capacity of others to manage their own relationships
  • Courage- take risks

The skilled facilitator approach provides the following ground rules for interacting with others:

  • Test assumptions and inferences
  • Share all relevant information
  • Use specific examples and agree on what important words mean
  • Explain your reasoning and intent
  • Focus on interests, not positions
  • Combine advocacy with inquiry
  • Jointly design next steps and ways to test disagreements
  • Discuss undiscussable issues
  • Use a decision-making rule that generates the degree of commitment needed

Until next time reflect upon these values, principles, and ground rules. Discuss them with others. And experiment to see how they help with trust. Whether in a group decision making effort or in a one-on-one conversation, you may find the trust level enhanced by practicing the “Mutual Learning Model.”