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  • Writer's pictureYoram Solomon, PhD

What can you do when a team member cannot be trusted?

Companies often ask me what they should do when a team member cannot be trusted. You can find that out using the Team Trust Matrix Assessment, but sometime you already know that even without a formal assessment. The assessment can just validate it, but also give you the root cause.

First, I want to explain the consequences of a single team member who cannot be trusted.

In order for the team to be effective, productive, and creative, they must be able to hold constructive disagreements. Those are the disagreements that are often passionate and heated, but never personal, emotional, or irrational. It's when ideas, and not people, are stupid.

My research found that in a low trust team, members feel that disagreements are unproductive, don't feel comfortable disagreeing, or avoid disagreements altogether ten times more than in a high trust team.

As an alternative, low-trust teams are avoiding disagreements, holding the "meeting before the meeting," the "meeting after the meeting," but not the meeting during the meeting. When they disagree, it is personal, emotional, and irrational. Either way, they are not productive, effective, or creative.

To be able to hold a constructive disagreement, each team member must be willing to be vulnerable with the others, be willing to provide them true feedback, and be receptive for that feedback.

Guess what? Members of high-trust team are 76% more receptive to feedback, 106% more willing to provide true feedback, and 240% more willing to be vulnerable:

But what if one member of the team is not trusted? Think about it. Your willingness to be vulnerable with another team member depends not only on how much you trust that member. It depends on how much you trust any member of the team. The presence of one team member you don't trust will severely limit your willingness to be vulnerable, provide feedback and be receptive to anyone else.

This is why it is so important to identify that weakest link in the team, which we do using the Team Trust Matrix Assessment.

But what do you do once you have identified the team member who is trusted the least?

The first question to ask, Why can't you trust him or her? Use our trustworthiness model described in The Book of Trust.

You may be surprised, but most reasons can be mitigated and fixed. One of the most common reasons is that the team didn't have enough high-intensity exposure to that member. In simpler terms, we don't know him or her yet. Get to know them. Spend time with them inside and outside of work. Get to really know them. Accelerate that learning curve.

A second reason is because you don't think that he or she is competent in what they should deliver to the team. If so, is there something that could be done? For example, training? Is there a way to accelerate that competence building process?

But a third reason can be very problematic. If that member is well known by the team, and not new to it, considered professionally-technically competent, but still is not trusted, the reason would typically be lack of shared values. This reason is hard, if not impossible to overcome. Since that member has been part of the team for a long time, enough to establish that lack of shared values, it is likely not something that can be resolved, and the best solution, as hard as it might be to hear, and even harder to execute, is to remove that member from the team.

Or you can settle for low productivity and creativity in the team.

Trust me.

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