It’s not impossible to find a high-trust team in a low-trust organization – we’ve seen a few – but not too many. For the most part, low-trust organizations are made up of low-trust teams.
This is the second in a series of five, totaling 25 warnings signs in:
Team Warning Signs of a Low-Trust Organization
Look around the teams in your environment. Do they have some of these characteristics? Then you might be a member of a low-trust organization.
1. A low-trust team isn’t productive.
- It misses milestones. It doesn’t deliver on time, or on spec. The team doesn’t do what it says it will do. The team is unreliable.
- It produces mediocre work. It settles for what looks to be low risk, getting the lowest common denominator. It chokes off innovation in the name of risk, often masking jealousy and NIH (not invented here) Syndrome.
- It fails to achieve its goals. Goal failure is more than milestone failure writ large. It speaks to a failure of common purpose and common commitment.
2. Low-trust teams typically form sub-groups and cliques within them.
- There are flurries of private emails and hushed conversations. This is sub-team bonding, not even tribal – it is transient, shallow, and superficial – Mean Girls bonding.
- Team members are guarded in their communications. They are concerned someone else might hear, and that would be in principle a bad thing. It’s the ‘in principle’ part that’s worrisome.
- Information is hoarded as a source of political power, rather than shared to create greater team power and organizational success.
3. Low-trust teams are less than the sum of their parts.
- A great team – even a just pretty good team – can accomplish so much more than simply the sum of its parts. But a low-trust team can’t.
- They choke off innovation and personal growth – things that happen organically even in a neutral, social organization. A low-trust team isn’t benign, it’s toxic.
- People are massively influenced by those around them – a group of low-trust people can bring even a strong team player down to their level of low trust.
- If the team is bureaucratically protected from competition, it will have low turnover among a core group and high turnover from the occasional newcomer. If the team is in a competitive environment, it will show high turnover everywhere. No one likes staying.
4. A low trust team is addicted to faux team-ness, happy talk, not real team walk.
- We can’t prove this, but we sometimes wonder if the presence of those motivational posters isn’t negatively correlated with team behavior (or is that just us being cynical?)
- Lip service is the coin of the realm, because to be honest would be to acknowledge the existence of low trust. Honesty is what distinguishes a merely critical team from a low-trust team; the latter is disengaged.
- The opposite of low-trust teams isn’t competitive, meritocratic teams; it is teams who know enough to wish they were trust-based, and try to pretend to appear so.
- There is frequently a high-performer, one who achieves great results but does not follow the values. This manifest unfairness results in resentment among the rest of the team.
5. A low-trust team has trouble collaborating.
- Low-trust teams are likely to prefer individual compensation schemes; they don’t believe in, or trust, the ability of the team to do well for them, preferring to fend for themselves.
- Collaboration drives innovation; but low-trust teams exalt solo work, thus buying into the “solo inventor” myth of innovation.
If teams in your ecosphere look like this, you may be hanging around a low-trust organization.
For some ideas on how to improve trust, see Three Strategies to Improve Business’s Trust.
In the next post we’ll explore Five Warning Signs in Leadership that suggest a low-trust organization.