Live together, die alone – productivity impacts of distrust

As I wrote in an earlier post, trust is a critical environmental hygiene factor for project success.  We expect a certain level of distrust between organizations that are partnering on a project which provides the rationale for contracts, penalty clauses, service level agreements and other legally binding documentation.  But what happens if the trust issues are within the walls of a single company?

Taken to the extreme, a lack of trust can result in stakeholders actively scheming to sabotage each others work efforts, but some times, the symptoms of this issue remain more subtle and can fester.  In such cases, spectacular project failures are unlikely which is unfortunate as such dire events can act as the catalyst to force executives to take drastic measures to put their company back on the right path.  To use the (morbid) analogy, while occasional shortness of breath or tightness in the chest might provide a warning to check one’s diet or exercise more, a minor heart attack is often the best wake up call for someone who is not practicing a healthy lifestyle.

So what are the warning signs of internal trust issues?

1. Demands for an excessive number of sign offs on minor deliverables

2. An unwillingness or inability to empower proxies when primary decision makers are unavailable

3. Too many participants or “epidemic” invitations (the syndrome in which an original invitee quietly invites other people to participate) at meetings

4. Illogical stalling on decisions or sign offs even when the impact of such stalling tactics represents clear and present danger to project timelines

5. Passive resistance including ignorance of requests for input, meeting invitations or defined rules of engagement

6. Unnecessary escalation of minor issues

While none of these symptoms are fatal, they are the project equivalent to slow boiling a frog.  They reduce job satisfaction for project managers and team members, and further existing “us & them” stereotypes within the organization.




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