When it comes to the way your team members relate to each other, there's such a thing as too much trust.
It's true. If your team trusts each other unconditionally, mistakes and other issues can slip by unnoticed. On the other hand, according to an article by Walter Frick in Harvard Business Review, distrust can encourage teams to do better work.
The surprising finding comes from a study published in the journal Group Decision and Negotiation. Paul Benjamin Lowry, a professor at City University of Hong Kong and one of the study's authors, defines distrust in the HBR article as "an awareness of potential loss."
To see how this concept of distrust affects teams, the researchers set up teams to work on projects together online. Some teams were given routine work while others were assigned more complex and unfamiliar problems. Right before starting, some teams got a prompt that one of their team members had been secretly assigned to sabotage the group and get the wrong answer. The prompt was meant to sow distrust.
The message had no effect on the groups that completed routine work. But the groups doing the more complex work had a different result--they actually performed better.
"Distrust 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 researchers wrote in the study.
The researchers say distrust helped spur critical thinking. Instead of accepting things at face value, people who distrust something or someone will examine the facts with a new, clearer perspective.
Of course, that doesn't mean you should start making elaborate plans to sow distrust among your employees. Instead, the researchers say, you should make simple moves to change things up and keep people on their toes--for example, reorganize a team of veteran employees with new ones or switch employees' regular roles.
"These interventions could foster some distrust, thereby sparking critical thinking, but without fostering harmful tension between any two individual group members," Frick writes.