VERMIKO – Mutual trust in business-cooperations

In collaboration with the RWTH Aachen University, ways emerged for the improvement of mutual trust in business co-operations

Mutual trust can reduce the opportunity costs in business co-operations and considerably enhance the work climate. On the other hand, too much trust can lead to a substantial risk.
In the project with the Institute of Industrial Engineering and Ergonomics (IAW) at the RWTH Aachen University (Fr. Prof. Mütze-Niewöhner) we immersed ourselves in the following questions:

  • How does trust develop and what is it influenced by?
  • How is trust destroyed between business partners?
  • What can business partners do to promote and maintain mutual trust?

Work packages in the project:

  • Development of the VERON questionnaire on collaboration in innovation co-operations
  • Testing of the questionnaire
  • Development of a concept for qualification of "trust-coaches"
  • Performance of training courses at an engineering company in the construction sector (40 participants)

The questionnaire

We conducted the survey among employees at a range of companies from our client base. A total of 45 members of staff took part, most of them from companies with a staff of more than 1000.

The most important findings

  • Measures to build trust are really important especially in the initial phase.
  • Even the slightest loss of trust leads to major problems in project management
  • Measures to build trust must be integrated into Quality Management

The qualification concept:

To develop the learning goals and learning content, we started off by interviewing 4 project managers using the semi-standardized VERmiko Interview Guidelines (VERIL) for the initial analysis.
This provided the basis for the development of a standardized questionnaire, the VERmiko Assessment (VERAS), with questions relating to, among other things, experiences of both positive and negative co-operations. Other sets of questions concerned themselves with the occurrence of breaches of trust and the possibility of rebuilding trust. This questionnaire was used on 83 subjects.

Further important findings:

  • Innovative projects and complex challenges call for a high degree of openness and trust
  • Trust has to be continuously re-anchored in the cooperation
  • Initial trust building in the construction sector very often takes place via solicitation of references
  • For the process of trust building the following characteristics are considered to be particularly important:
  • Openness, honesty, reliability
  • Authentic manner and appearance
  • Competence and clarity in one's statements
  • Clear understanding of one's role
  • Openness in the communication of problems
  • Changes in project teams very often lead to loss of trust


The qualification concept itself consisted of several components:

In the attendance seminar, the following topics were dealt with:

  • Background and scientific knowledge on trust
  • Trust and risk
  • Experiential unit: Trust-based cooperation in a variation on the prisoner's dilemma
  • Trust as a feeling or as a conscious decision
  • Intuitive trust: What influences humans' sense of trust
  • Situational conditions for the promotion of trust
  • How trust develops: The implicit theory of trust and how scientific findings can be applied in practice
  • Trust building and situational perception: behavioral options during first impressions
  • Influence of the project manager on the climate of trust: the self-reinforcing relationship of trust
  • The right amount of trust (Trust is good! Is control better?)
  • Evaluation of trust and risk
  • Shaping of the major effect factors communication, participation und transparency in projects
  • Communication design
  • Trust in conflict situations

The theoretical basis of the qualification concept: the model of Differential Trust Theory:

Evaluation of the qualification concept:

In addition to the standard seminar feedback forms ("happy-sheets") we also conducted interviews with the participants directly after the training course and again after they had been back at their everyday work for several months.
Whether their knowledge (2nd evaluation level: learning) had improved after the seminars was evaluated by the IAS by means of a test in WBT and through a simulation.
Improvement in behavior (3rd evaluation level: behavior) was evaluated by means of a questionnaire with rating scales for trust, communication and work in the team in cooperation projects in the construction sector.
The results for the 4th evaluation level (what outcomes has the qualification course had for your daily work) are not yet available. 

Results of the evaluation:

  • The results of the questionnaire showed a clear improvement in the trust building behavior of the participants who had taken part in the qualification course
  • The practical seminar was seen overall as very useful for operational practice; seminar execution was described as well-structured with plenty of variety of focus.
  • After attending the qualification course the participants were familiar with the most important aspects of the concept of trust

Publications on the project:

Röwenstrunk, M.; Mütze-Niewöhner, S.; Wohlfahrt, L.; Sturm, F.: Vertrauensprozesse implementieren - Erfahrungen aus projektorientierten Organisationen, In: Innovationsfähigkeit durch Vetrauensgestaltung?, Peter Lang, Hrsg.: Becke, G.; Funken, C.; Klinke, S.; Scholl, W.; Schweer, M., Frankfurt am Main 2013, ISBN 978-3-631-63366-3, S. 69-85

Lachner, R.; Röwenstrunk, M.; Sturm, F.; Schlick, Christopher: Vertrauen messen und fördern - Instrumente zur Entwicklung von Vertrauen in Innovationskooperationen, In: Innovationsfähigkeit durch Vetrauensgestaltung?, Peter Lang, Hrsg.: Becke, G.; Funken, C.; Klinke, S.; Scholl, W.; Schweer, M., Frankfurt am Main 2013, ISSN 978-3-631-63366-3, S. 231-248

Röwenstrunk, M.; Mütze-Niewöhner, S.: Vertrauen in Innovationsprojekten fördern, In: IAW SPECTRUM, Hrsg.: Schlick, C.; Institut für Arbeitswissenschaft (IAW) der RWTH Aachen, Aachen, 7 (2012) 1, ISSN 2193-7222, S. 4-6