ATD Blog

7 Ways Trust Is Tested in Teams

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Everyone wants to be on a team that shares ideas, leverages members’ talents, works through challenges, communicates openly and honestly, and trusts one another. Trust creates an environment where people want to work.

Yet every day, trust is tested in team relationships. Trust is fragile and our everyday behaviors in team interactions can unintentionally fracture it in small, subtle ways.

Minor breaches of trust add up over time to create major betrayals. 

  • When someone arrives late to meetings, it sends the message that their time is more important. 
  • When a team member misses deadlines and doesn’t renegotiate the timeline or acknowledge the impact that has on other team members, it violates trust. 
  • When a team member repeatedly ignores requests for information, it bottlenecks team progress. 
  • When a team member faces unanticipated challenges that require additional time or resources, and the teammates fail to rally around and create solutions—and view it as someone else’s problem—it compromises trust.

Behaviors that break trust may seem small and subtle, but their impact is not.  Feelings of anger, resentment, helplessness, and fear cloud thinking. People pull back, disengage, and lose their sense of pride in their work and self-confidence.
People may not intend to behave in ways that compromise trust, but it happens. Here are 7 common ways in which trust is broken in teams.

  1. Members talk about one another behind their back. Gossip is the number one behavior that erodes trust within teams. Rather than going directly to the individual with an issue or concern, members talk to everyone else. The grapevine flourishes.

  2. Team members shoot the messenger. The person who delivers information to the team they don’t want to hear is blamed. Instead of addressing the issue, the team attacks the person. This discourages telling the truth in your team and suppresses open communication.

  3. Team members accept credit for the work they did not perform. Collaboration involves acknowledging the contributions of everyone involved. The sins of omission are betrayals to team members. 

  4. Team members send mixed messages. Members no longer perceive one another as reliable and dependable and in this climate of uncertainty; they become jaded and no longer know what can be believed. 

  5. Team members break confidentiality. Disclosing information members have been trusted to keep private, whether it is personal or professional, violates trust. Breaches of confidentiality encourage paranoia and misunderstandings. 

  6. Team members are unwilling to consider new ideas or methods. When new ideas are shot down team members stop coming up with them. Creativity and innovation plummet.

  7. Team members get even for perceived wrong doings. Tit-for-tat behaviors escalate distrust. “You don’t give me information, why should I give you information? You don’t return my phone calls, why should I return yours?” Reciprocity ratchets trust either up, or down.

How can your team address trust-breaking behaviors? For starters, invite your team to reflect on their team behavior. Consider sharing this post with your team as a reference point for discussion and action. 

  1. Do members talk directly to one another about disappointments, let downs, and frustrations?
  2. What happens when members of your team bring bad news to one another’s attention?
  3. Do members share in the credit for the work they perform, or jockey for recognition?
  4. Do members walk their talk, or say one thing and then do another?
  5. How safe is it to share information on your team?
  6. How open and receptive is your team to new ideas of others?
  7. When trust is broken, how do members on your team respond? 

Trust begins with you. Consider how your behavior contributes to the presence or absence of trust in your team dynamics. When you and your team redirect these common tests of trust, you will transform behavior that transcends any challenge.  

About the Author

Michelle Reina, PhD, is co-founder of Reina Trust Building, a global firm specializing in transforming workplaces—and lives—through trust. Reina’s focus for 30 years has been researching trust and developing practical methodologies and tools to assess and measurably strengthen trust in workplace relationships.

Leaders, teams, and organizations such as American Express, Ben & Jerry’s, Center for Creative Leadership, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Johns Hopkins Medical Center, Harvard University, Johnson & Johnson, Lincoln Financial Group, Miller Coors, Nokia, Toyota, Turner Broadcasting (CNN), Voya Financial, VISA, Yale University, Walt Disney World, and the US Army and Treasury Departments have leveraged Reina’s comprehensive trust-building system. Through consulting, speaking, training, and coaching, Reina supports people not only to build trust but also to rebuild trust, regain happiness and joy, and work productively again in relationships where trust has been compromised.

Reina’s work is based upon an underlying premise that all business is conducted via relationships, and trust is the core foundation to effective relationships that produce results and forge human connection.
Reina believes that all people want, need and deserve to have trust in their relationships with others, and in themselves.

Reina and her husband, Dennis Reina, are co-authors of two business bestselling books: Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace, 3rd edition and Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace.

About the Author

Dennis Reina, PhD, is a co-founder of Reina, a trust-building consultancy based in Stowe, Vermont.  Reina is a sought after consultant, speaker, and executive coach. He is co-author of the best selling books, Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace and Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace.  He has been awarded the Global Strategic Leadership Award at the World HRD Congress and has been named by Trust Across America as one of the top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business.  Global clients include American Express, Johnson and Johnson, Harvard University, Kimberly Clark, Turner Broadcasting, and the U.S. Army.   Reach her at, [email protected] or 802.253.8808.

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