Delusion of Trust is Compromising Growth

Do you have absolute trust among your ownership and leadership teams? Do not answer yes too quickly. Every organization tells me they have trust, yet most do not. There has been no research around how much money lack of trust costs organizations every year, but I am confident that you can increase your revenue and profits substantially by facing this issue. If you have cracks in trust you are missing the foundation to teamwork and will find it impossible to achieve peak performance in your organization.

Ironically, many owners will tell me they have trust among themselves that breaks down below that level, but they are just fooling themselves, which is why they have such a problem with the rest of their organization. This exact situation exists now with one of my client companies. Each of the owners has confided in me the concerns they have about the others. However, they have told me that I cannot bring the issues out in the open.

“George” (who is CEO) thinks his partner is not competent enough to do his job or committed enough to the organization. He has been disappointed that “John” (VP of Sales) has not taken more initiative and in 7 years of business has not brought in a single new client. John, on the other hand, thinks George needs to be right about everything all the time and that discussing anything with him is futile. George becomes verbally abusive and impossible to work with if you disagree with him, so John has decided to just go along with the status quo since the company is doing well anyways. At this point they go week to week doing whatever the other wants, neither holding the other accountable. Luckily, they have a good (not great) business model, and the company has done well. In my experience, should the company face challenges the partnership will fail fast.

In his book Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Pat Lencioni points out that “trust” is the foundation to a strong team. He lists the five dysfunctions in a pyramid in the following order: 1) trust, 2) fear of conflict, 3) lack of commitment 4) avoidance of accountability, and 5) inattention to results. One way to find out if your group has a problem with trust and teamwork is to watch your meetings and ask yourself these questions:

  • Does everyone on the team look forward to these meetings?
  • Is everyone actively engaged in the meetings?
  • Is there a healthy debate on the issues brought up, or are people just being told what to do?
  • Are people really committed to decisions, or do you find yourself asking people over and over again to follow through on the decisions made?
  • Are team members holding each other accountable?
  • Is there a clear plan of action and scorecard created to hold each other accountable?
  • How much attention is paid to individual needs (ego, recognition, etc) as opposed to the goals of the team?

Going back to my example above, I spent 6 hours with George and John talking about major issues I’d found within their business. John barely spoke. George disagreed with all of my findings, deciding in advance that none of the suggested remedies would work in his business or his industry, etc. These are common answers from people who do not trust and need to be right. However, when a recommendation was consistent with his opinion or something he had already concluded, he agreed. While all this was going on (for 6 hours) his partner almost never spoke. This is when you know for sure there is a major trust issue among your partners.

Whenever George wanted to disagree with me, he would hammer me. If arguing from a weak position, he would turn to John and say, “Don’t you agree with me?” With weak conviction and eyes averted, John would say yes. They are not willing to be vulnerable in front of each other. The clincher, at the end of the meeting, the CEO called me aside to ask for some additional information, which I agreed to deliver the following week. Before exiting, I went to John’s office to see if he could be available for next week’s meeting, and he asked, “What could he possibly want to do with that information?” When I pointed out that this was the list of accountabilities that George is going to agree to commit to assign to John, he murmured under his breath “that will never happen. He is a control freak and will never give anything up.”

According to Pat Lencioni, you know you have a good team when:

  1. Everyone says they “unequivocally trust one another.”
  2. They engage in unfiltered, healthy conflict around ideas
  3. They commit to decisions and plans of actions.
  4. They hold one another accountable for those actions and plans.
  5. They focus on achievement of collective results.

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