When Trust is Gone, Nothing Else Works

When trust is gone, nothing else works. It’s true for friendships, marriages, politicians, and companies.

I ran into this with recently with a client. Two feuding departments who look to the CEO to resolve differences, but can’t get the decisions they need. Instead of one company working together, there are two departments working in parallel and duplicating effort. But it’s even worse than that.

The Effect

The atmosphere between the two department heads, and between some of their staff, is now poisoned with mistrust. They’re at the stage where they’re actively sabotaging each other.

Instead of having a creative and concrete conflict about substantive issues, solving problems, and moving the company forward they’re covering up weaknesses and mistakes, jumping to conclusions about each others’  intentions and attitudes, and not talking to each other. Grudges fester and meetings are dreadful and unproductive.

So What?

We can’t reach into the past and change things. There are some things we  can do.

First, it’s up to you as a leader to model vulnerability for your team. Admit mistakes, listen to feedback, ask for help. You can’t do it all yourself, that’s why you hired smart people to work with you. Use them to make yourself better, just like you want them to lean on each other.

Support vulnerability. Do not tolerate destructive or critical behaviour. One of my construction clients even has it written in their company ground-rules posted in every meeting room: Swearing is allowed and even encouraged. Personal attacks and blame are not. They laugh a lot, even when things seem to be at their worst. Then they buckle down and get things done.

Lastly, encourage healthy, passionate debate. Get everybody’s opinion. Don’t allow one or two verbal bullies to dominate the conversation. If we all agree all the time, then some of us are redundant. Get all opinions on the table, discuss the worst case scenario, get clear on what you’re trying to do, figure out specifics of who’s going to do what by when.

Then go execute.


Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with RESULTS.com

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