Trust Issues

Abhishek Paul
3 min readSep 25, 2018

(Context: This POV on Trust takes off from Patrick Lencioni’s “5 Dysfunctions of a Team”)

The question at work was a simple one, “Whom do you place your trust on at work?” The obvious answer would be someone who you believe will get the job done, ie it’s a straightforward skill based decision. The character aspect of trust is a good to have or can be worked around if absent. But something in our gut tells us that we’re missing something.

The first piece is the the level of complexity. At the lower end where it is largely independent and transactional tasks — at this end of the spectrum, skills (hard / technical) influence outcome majorly and at the same time, interpersonal skills do not. At most they’re good to have — ie, while the person might be a gossip or prone to exaggerate, if he has the skills, I will still “trust” him to get the job done. But I will “not trust” him with more sensitive info / tasks. In essence the future growth is capped.

But as we move higher up the value chain, where work is heavily interconnected and interdependent, the individual’s core expertise will not suffice. They will need others to share information, question / suggest options in an open and timely manner, give hands on support when needed, forgive mistakes, not assume bad intentions and many such intangibles. So many of these things need to happen even without being asked. Here is where the softer aspects of trust come into play — do I trust this person not to use my feedback against me? Do I trust this person not to have a hidden agenda?

The other piece is the power relations between the individuals. A manager’s trust that an employee will not be harmed is usually high since he is in a position of power over the individual. Moreover it benefits the employee to “act” in a trustworthy manner since his rewards are at stake. It’s a different ball game when it comes to peer group dynamics, which is a more accurate indication of trust levels in the team. In the absence of formal authority, the quality of interaction is largely a reflection of the trust levels that exist between them. You need to factor in the element of peer competition also, ie doing this for someone with whom you might be competing with for the same rewards. The system actually seems to incentivize one to behave in a distrustful manner.

When we trust skill alone, the best outcome we can expect is capped by the skill level of the individual. But when we have a team that has high interpersonal trust in addition to skills, the outcome is greater than the sum of individual skills, ie they achieve synergy.

My POV is that functional expertise is necessary, but it is only the starting point. It’s presence / absence is most easily and quickly spotted (conversely, easily rewarded too).

Lack of interpersonal trust can be seen only if we dig beneath the surface and it typically takes longer to manifest. But once it sets in, it is also difficult to turn around because it impacts people at a deeper level.

In other words a team that scores high on interpersonal trust has fun producing great results together while a team low on this parameter (and no matter how high the individual skills) delivers individual results out of fear / insecurity / ego gratification, ie has the smell of “survival of the fittest” culture.

I know where I would prefer to work. Do you?