There is no such thing as mutual trust

A psychologist friend of mine once explained to me that trust is a personal thing. Some people are naturally very trusting and others are naturally suspicious and wary.  This makes the concept of, “mutual trust” a problem.   I’m an auditor, and by nature and professional training I am sceptical.  You might trust me completely and without question, but that trust will not be mutual.

In my experience, clause 10.1 of NEC 3 which states that all parties will, “….act in a spirit of mutual trust…..” is often used negatively in practise. For example, I have heard it used in the context, “Don’t you trust me?” or, “Their actions demonstrate that we just can’t trust them.”

My conclusion is that in complex alliance and partnerships, there is no such thing as mutual trust. It defies human nature.


If you break it down from an abstract concept, then I believe that trust can be a useful way of looking at things. “Trust”, according to my dictionary is a, “firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something”.

For partnerships and alliances to work effectively there has to be a firm belief in, for example:

  • The reliability of defined costs
  • The truth of quotes which support compensation events
  • The ability of managers to address commercial issues quickly and effectively
  • The ability of an organisation to enter into cost effective sub-contracting relationships

Building a, “firm belief” through cost assurance and contract reviews

The most effective way of building a firm belief (i.e. trust) in someone or something is to test your own judgements with an objective, independent and expert third party opinion. In the context of a partnership or alliancing arrangement, cost assurance fulfils this role.

By carrying out assurance reviews involving all parties to the arrangement, it is possible to build a firm belief and to build trust.

If I carry out an independent, expert and objective view of a contractor’s accounting infrastructure, for example and conclude that it is robust, that helps to create a firm belief in the reliability of defined costs. Even if I find a problem, fixing that issue quickly and effectively will also help to build trust.

Contrast this with the problem with a contractor’s accounting infrastructure going undetected and leading to an unpleasant commercial surprise such as an unexpected increase in costs. This will destroy belief and trust.

My second conclusion (borne out by experience) is therefore that cost assurance helps to build trust. As such it is an essential part of any partnership or alliancing arrangement.