6 Signs Your Team May Have Trust Issues

Trust is a buzzword, sure; but its being overused and whatnot doesn’t necessarily mean we can ignore the issue altogether.

First, a quick note about what I’m not necessarily talking about when I use the word trust. (Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team was super helpful for me several years ago when I started really trying to better understand trust within the context of a team environment.) When I say trust, I don’t mean a predictive sort of trust. I’m not talking about the sort of trust that develops between people over time because they learn how a person tends to respond to things.

And I’m not talking about the kind of trust you “learn” at teambuilding events when you fall backward off some tree stump in the woods (or in some hotel conference room or whatever) and into the outstretched arms of your teammates. I mean, I’m sure it’s fun and all, and I’m all for teams having a good time together. I just have no idea how that actually helps you that following Monday morning when customers are yelling at you, teammates are copping an attitude with you, and your manager’s being a real tool. But that’s another post for another day…

What I am talking about is a trust based on people being human and vulnerable with each other. Teams with this kind of trust tend to be open, unguarded, passionate, and…well…human.

It’s a little bizarre, because this sort of trust is so difficult to build, but at the same time it’s the sort of atmosphere that most humans tend to want on at least some level. I mean, when we think about leaders, for example, almost no one wants to work for managers who think they’re perfect, never ask for help or ideas, hold grudges, assume everyone’s up to no good, and so on. That sort of stuff drives employees everywhere bonkers, right?

I’ve talked about being real and human before here, and about vulnerability-based trust here, if you’re interested. But what are some of the warning signs that you may need to work as a team at becoming more human, vulnerable, and trusting? Here you go:

1. Teammates try to hide mistakes, shortcomings, and flaws.

2. They don’t often ask for or offer help.

3. The team dreads meeting together.

4. Teammates hold grudges like it’s junior high.

5. People assume negative intent on the part of others.

6. Almost everyone’s wearing a mask of some sort; facades abound.

So how about it? Do you see some or all of these on your team? If you do, there’s a good chance you’ve not yet established an environment within which your employees feel able to be open and vulnerable with each other.

As leaders, we’ve got to be vulnerable first, and we’ve got to create an atmosphere wherein being vulnerable and trusting is the norm, not the exception.


  1. Bob Sharpe says:

    Spot on post, Matt. It has been my experience that most teams read what their leaders are “really” saying surprisingly well.

  2. Edunators says:

    Great post. Lencioni’s work is exceptional and this was a solid spin-off of that. Ultimately, I think trust in the workplace is really about “trusting” that if you take a positive risk by suggesting an idea or disagreeing with a colleague, there won’t be any negative professional or social ramifications of that risk. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I’ve known many managers and business owners that would love this article so much they’d reword the six warning signs as rules for conduct, and place them up on a wall somewhere – probably in the conference or break room… Missing the point entirely. A trusting environment can’t be forged. It must be grown.

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  9. Brian Coventry says:

    Matt, like you I found the book very helpful. Like your warning signs. One extension to the absence of Trust I am pondering is what happens when an organisations moves from a high state of being vulnerable to invinerable and displaying the warning signs you have set out. What’s the impact when the corporate memory recalls a state of existence so positive and moves to one that feels dysfunctional.

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