The Five Faces of Mistrust in a Team

I once heard it said of money that the more you talked about it, the less you had it (incidentally the same has been said of sex..). In the multitude of corporations I’ve been a part of and in my own clients’ work environments, Teamwork seems to be the most touted yet most elusive slam dunk.
Teamwork is such a hot topic that a cursory web search yielded a whopping 21 million results!
Everyone is talking about this entity, everybody wants to have it but strangely enough, most leaders don’t even know that they don’t really have a clear grasp of what Teamwork looks like.
Instead, there are only symptoms of an operation formed of teams that isn’t working well:

  • sales are down or profits are lacking.
  •  there are consistent customer satisfaction issues or shipment problems.
  •  new products don’t launch on time but everyone is working overtime.

Sound familiar?
According to Patrick Lencioni, the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “building a leadership team is hard. It demands substantial behavioral changes from people who are strong-willed and often set in their ways, having already accomplished great things in their careers.”
Research shows that trust is the basis for creating a healthy work environment. According to Heathfield (2002a), trust is the necessary precursor for the following:

  • Feeling able to rely upon another person;
  •  Cooperating as a group;
  •  Taking thoughtful risks;
  •  Experiencing believable communication.

In other words, “trust forms the foundation for effective communication, associate retention, motivation, and contributions of discretionary energy” (Heathfield, 2002a).
In fact, another study conducted for the famous software company Cisco called “The Psychology of Effective Business Communications in Geographically Dispersed Teams,” examined the trust-eroding phenomena that plague many virtual teams.
In this study, researchers found that an over-reliance on email, a failure to respond to messages and the use of inappropriate modes of communication damaged trust and hampered the progress of critical projects.
When virtual teams neglected the need to socialize, make visual contact and establish up-to-date communication guidelines, the trust they formed was often fragile and easily compromised, leading to conflicts and the breakdown of relationships.
In both the virtual and non-virtual worlds, I have been privy to these 5 Faces of Mistrust in my Teams that you’ll read about in this e-zine. I call the symptoms of mistrust in a team “faces” because that’s how they show up. They appear at different times to different people in various ways.
Not surprisingly, these “faces” cause dissatisfaction and lower productivity in the companies that foster these types of behaviors. The success of these companies often rely on individual departments’ successes and never as a result of an effective team collaboration.
It is fascinating to me how many already successful companies could thrive and become even stronger through the use of effective teambuilding knowledge by its leaders.
Find these following faces in your teams and challenge them to change forever.
Face 1. There are no arguments during meetings or at any other time for that matter.
At one company I worked for, our operations meetings would usually bring several teams who worked together in one room every month. During the course of the meetings, there would be a lot of snickering and snide remarks to be found, but there was never any open conflict about what was going wrong with any of the projects.
Any issues were conveniently shelved for an offline discussion which never happened or were swept under the rug with generic comments about further follow-up being required.
There was no trust amongst these groups, nobody felt that they could call someone else’s vulnerability out, lest they get the same in return.
This group was prone to many mistakes and low productivity.
Face 2. Critical information is often hoarded by individual departments.
This same company I worked at had a policy of keeping financial information from some members of its management team for confidentiality reasons. Can you imagine keeping the co-pilot of a racing team from looking at the odometer?
You generally get what you give, so the company was telling its employees that it didn’t trust its own team of managers to look out for them.
This, in turn caused not just the unprivileged ones, but all managers to get the mistrust message from the company loud and clear.
How likely would you be to trust someone who didn’t trust you?
Face 3. There is tons of gossip.
At most of the companies I worked with, gossip was an ever present factor amongst management or staff. However, the most dysfunctional companies I worked with took the cake for the frequency, intensity and scope of gossip amongst every level of the organization.
When employees lack the trust to confront and discuss issues head-on, the resentment that builds up results in back room confessions, bathroom updates and lunch time round tables of juicy bits about one single thing- what’s going wrong at work.
I’ve seldom heard the positive gossip about anyone at these companies, have you?
Face 4. Some sub-groups in the team are definitely treated preferentially and nobody cares who knows it.
In one of the companies I worked at, all departments envied the Finance Department.
Their manager promoted them faster than those at any other department. Those who worked in the Finance Department got to work from home on odd days (not tolerated for any other Department) and were notorious for having cushy expense accounts to take out their consultants and other suppliers.
The Finance team even had preferential parking right at the front entrance door, because apparently their head office department had the same policy in place.
This blatant difference in the way that the Finance team was being treated didn’t make anyone aspire to be like them—instead it caused lots of resentment and back room discussion about the management that was allowing this to happen.
Can productivity in the long term be high in any place where morale isn’t? I haven’t seen it…
Face 5. Nobody apologizes for their mistakes.
When showing vulnerabilities is equated to a certain corporate death by being replaced with an armored version of said person, nobody is willing to admit they screwed up.
This starts from the top–leaders are often rewarded for appearing infallible and tough in the corporate world.
This tough stance isn’t only an illusion but also breeds a lack of trust amongst the entire team.
He who is able to admit his own faults and weaknesses and mistakes can only then forgive weakness in others.
That, after all, is the cornerstone of trust.
Noticing these symptoms in your own teams is the first step to confronting them.
Through successful facilitation, new paradigms can be set for healthier companies with more transparent leaders and teams. It’s not quick, nor is it easy.
The first step though, as with everything, is awareness–do you see the 5 Faces in your teams?
With kindness as always,


  1. Chala Dincoy

    there are 2 home pages for some reason though..hmm
    Thanks for the comment



  1. Coaching without trust | Coachtactics - [...] The Five Faces of Mistrust in a Team (coachtactics.com) [...]

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About Chala

Chala Dincoy is a Marketing Strategist who helps B2B service providers reposition their marketing message to successfully sell to corporate clients