Why Distrustful Teams Do Better Work

A small amount of mutual suspicion actually leads to better group performance, per a new study

Written by PROFIT Staff

A boss assembles a dream team to tackle a challenging client problem. The people in the group are all rising stars within the company, and they all know and respect each other’s work. But it turns out you’d might get better results with a less trustful team.

The inherent assumption is that trust in groups is good and the opposite is bad—toxic even. But being slightly distrustful of colleagues isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, researchers say it can have a positive effect on decision making and problem-solving skills, especially when it comes to complex tasks. 

A study recently published in The Journal of Group Decision and Negotiation found that distrusting work colleagues “creates an increased awareness and need to question, which is manifested through a reduced willingness to rely on the responses of others, and an increased need to check their work.” 

The study looked at how 70 three-person work groups tackled various spreadsheet projects, from easy to intermediate. The participants were all students in the same introductory information systems course. The groups were given work that featured advanced concepts they had not yet covered and would require a new application of their skills.

In some groups, the researchers told the teams that a person in their group might be trying to undermine the decision results. Those groups ended up making more accurate decisions.

Sometimes, it seems, sabotage can be pretty super.


Does this study line up with your experiences? Is there any place for distrust in teamwork? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com