6 Ways to Break Trust in a Team

Inspired by the teaching In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The first breakdown results from a lack of trust. Trust is not quantitative. In other words, it cannot be measured on a scale or with a numerical value. Trust is qualitative; subjective and often tethered with expectation and experience. When our expectations aren't met, trust begins to wane. When experience shows a pattern, trust is built or broken. 

Once trust is broken, it gives way for the other elements to falter. 


Today I'd like to share 6 sure-shot ways to break the trust of your team that I have personally (and painfully) experienced and have helped coach many others through: 


1. Selling the vision without the plan

"A goal without a plan is just a wish." -Antoine De Saint-Exupery

As a leader, you're a vision caster. Part of your role is to help your team understand the culture, vision, mission and plan of the organization. Take caution not to over-sell the vision without also revealing the detailed plan of action that makes big ideas into reality. I've watched well-meaning visionaries prematurely share the vision without the plan attached. This raises questions in your team and when they don't see the plans actualize over time, they begin to doubt your leadership and credibility of the organization they may eventually disassociate themselves from the organization all together. 

You can't live in a blueprint. It's one thing to have a model of a castle, but you can't live in it. 


2. False promises and propaganda 

 One quick way to lose the trust of your team is to make promises you can't keep. People are generally trusting people. Especially toward leaders who are people in positions of influence. Now sometimes we inadvertently fail to deliver on our intentions. It happens because change happens rapidly and there are often a lot of factors you're privy to that your team is not. However, if you continually demonstrate a pattern of broken promises, your team will eventually see your promises as propaganda and not trust a word you say. If there are changes to the plan or program, simply address it with your team and acknowledge the factors beyond their sight and ensure them that you are committed to growth and adjustment for the overall good of the team and organization. 

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3. Diminishing feedback

As a leader, you have to be open to feedback. As mega entrepreneur and business coach, Michael Hyatt would say, "Even negative feedback is positive." Why? Because with the presentation of negative feedback comes a proposal for an opportunity for improvement. Don't you REALLY want to know how your team is feeling or would you rather run the risk of losing top talent because you're fostering an environment where their honest feedback is scorned or dismissed? Don't squash their comments or label them "negative" just because it challenges you or the system. A secure leader welcomes feedback and strives to create a culture where it's welcomed and appreciated. Your team may see flaws in the systems that you may not see. You hired them as a partner to help steer the organization forward to success, didn't you? Learn to trust the team you put in place to help you. Their feedback is gold! 


4. Negating responsibility

I've seen this happen far too often and this is a sure-shot way of breaking trust. If you're a leader who holds others accountable for excellence and would expect them to take ownership and responsibility...shouldn't you? As a leader, you're bound to make mistakes. Maybe you rolled out a program and later discovered many flaws. Or maybe you failed to respond supportively in a timely manner in which you would expect them to. Perhaps you didn't plan ahead to posture someone for success and their failure was a result of your lack of planning, training or management...Just admit it. Don't make excuses. You wouldn't want your team to do that, would you? Just say, "Hey, I realize I made a mistake. I could have done that differently. I apologize that my mistake caused you confusion and frustration. I learned that going forward, I can make these improvements..." You lead by example. When you own your mistakes, you're teaching your team it's okay to fail forward so long as we are all committed to growth. 


5. Setting people up to fail

Your team is looking to you to set them up for success. If you ask them to work on a special project, take on a new role, or roll out a new program, be sure to analyze the best way to set the person or the team up to win. That means being detailed and diligent in the delivery. Test and retest, get things organized and clear before roll-out. My best advice into involve a few others to look through the system or the plan and ask for their honest feedback, to identify holes and gaps and analytically ask questions and present possible problems that might present themselves. Be proactive. Catch the problems before they present themselves. Your team will appreciate a clearly laid out plan with systems and training in place to assist them in their new roles and responsibilities. Clarity is confidence. 


6. Devaluing the humanity of work

If you lead with systems first and people last, you devalue the precious humanity of your team. Even with a technology-focused and system reliant organization, don't lose sight of the value of your people. People are not meant to be treated like robots. Each human is uniquely created and equipped with background, experience, gifts and talents that systems don't provide. We have to honor God and His creations by placing high value on the people you lead. When meetings become all about brass tacks and expectations without any positive feedback, honor for creativity or innovation, gratitude for work well done, your team will be deprived of the need for honor, recognition and reward. After awhile, they'll begin to look elsewhere and seek an organization where they will feel appreciated. Show some love and watch how your team flourishes! 

Excerpt from "How to Use the Gratitude Advantage at Work" on MichaelHyatt.com

Let's Connect! 

What lessons have you learned or endured on the topic of trust and building teams?