Hidden cost of missing trust within a team: A software engineering perspective

Trust is an essential yet often overlooked component of successful teamwork. It is a fundamental element that serves as the bedrock of cooperative relationships, fostering increased productivity, enhanced communication, and overall team success. This blog post explores the hidden costs of missing trust within a team, especially within the context of software engineering. Drawing on leadership theory and academic research, we will delve into how a lack of trust can impact team performance and the steps leaders can take to foster trust within their teams.

The importance of trust in teamwork

Trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something. Within a team context, it refers to the belief that fellow team members will perform their roles effectively and behave in a way that is beneficial to the team (Mayer, Davis & Schoorman, 1995). Trust can be especially crucial in the software engineering field, where effective collaboration and communication are often required to meet project goals.

Research has consistently shown that trust can lead to numerous positive outcomes in teams. It enhances communication, cooperation, and knowledge sharing (Dirks & Ferrin, 2001), factors which are vital in software development where information exchange is critical. Trust also promotes increased productivity as team members feel confident in the abilities of their colleagues, thus reducing the need for constant supervision or micromanagement (Costa, 2003).

Hidden cost of missing trust

The absence of trust within a team can lead to significant hidden costs, many of which may not be immediately obvious. For instance, a lack of trust can cause communication breakdowns, as team members may hesitate to share vital information with each other (Mayer et al., 1995). This can lead to errors, missed deadlines, and inefficient work processes, all of which can seriously hamper a software development project.

Another hidden cost is the increase in conflict and stress within the team. When trust is low, team members are more likely to perceive each other’s actions as threatening or competitive, leading to conflict (De Dreu, 2008). Furthermore, a lack of trust can increase stress levels, as team members may feel insecure about their roles or doubt the abilities of their colleagues (Reina & Reina, 2006). This can result in lower job satisfaction and higher turnover rates, both of which can be costly for organizations.

Finally, a lack of trust can hinder innovation. In software engineering, creativity and innovation are essential for solving complex problems and developing cutting-edge solutions. However, without trust, team members may be hesitant to share their ideas or take risks, fearing criticism or failure (Edmondson, 1999). This can stifle innovation and prevent the team from reaching its full potential.

Building trust in teams

As a leader, there are several strategies you can employ to build trust within your team. These include:

  1. Open Communication: Leaders should promote a culture of open and honest communication. This includes being transparent about decisions and providing regular feedback (Edmondson, 2003).
  2. Demonstrate Reliability: Leaders should show that they can be relied upon. This can be done by consistently following through on promises and demonstrating competence in their role (Mayer et al., 1995).
  3. Fairness: Leaders should treat all team members fairly and equally. This includes distributing workloads fairly, recognizing individual contributions, and addressing conflicts in an impartial manner (Colquitt, 2001).
  4. Promote Collaboration: Leaders should encourage team members to work together and share knowledge. This not only enhances team performance but also helps to build trust as team members become more familiar with each other’s abilities and strengths (Dirks & Ferrin, 2001).
  5. Show Empathy and Understanding: Leaders should strive to understand the personal and professional challenges their team members may be facing and provide support where necessary. By demonstrating empathy, leaders can foster a supportive team environment that promotes trust (Greenleaf, 2002).

Trust and agile software development

Within the realm of software engineering, Agile methodologies have become a popular approach due to their flexibility and responsiveness. Agile emphasizes trust both within the team and between the team and stakeholders (Cockburn & Highsmith, 2001). In this context, the absence of trust can severely impair the Agile process.

For instance, in Agile, teams are self-organizing, which means they rely on the trust of their members to fulfill their roles without micromanagement. If this trust is missing, the team may not function effectively, and the development process may become inefficient. Similarly, Agile relies on frequent and transparent communication, both within the team and with stakeholders. A lack of trust can inhibit this communication, leading to misunderstandings and potentially flawed software.

Therefore, for Agile teams, building and maintaining trust should be a priority. As the Agile Manifesto states, “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”


Trust is a vital component of any team, particularly within the context of software engineering. The hidden costs of missing trust can significantly impact team performance, leading to communication breakdowns, increased stress and conflict, and hindered innovation. By adopting strategies to build trust, such as promoting open communication, demonstrating reliability, and fostering a supportive environment, leaders can enhance the success of their teams and projects.

Leadership is not just about directing and making decisions; it’s about building relationships based on trust. By understanding and acknowledging the importance of trust in teams, leaders can pave the way for more effective, efficient, and harmonious work environments.


Cockburn, A., & Highsmith, J. (2001). Agile software development, the people factor. Computer, 34(11), 131-133.

Colquitt, J. A. (2001). On the dimensionality of organizational justice: a construct validation of a measure. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(3), 386.

Costa, A. C. (2003). Work team trust and effectiveness. Personnel Review.

De Dreu, C. K. W. (2008). The virtue and vice of workplace conflict: food for (pessimistic) thought. Journal of Organizational Behavior: The International Journal of Industrial, Occupational and Organizational Psychology and Behavior, 29(1), 5-18.

Dirks, K. T., & Ferrin, D. L. (2001). The role of trust in organizational settings. Organization Science, 12(4), 450-467.

Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), 350-383.

Edmondson, A. (2003). Speaking up in the operating room: How team leaders promote learning in interdisciplinary action teams. Journal of Management Studies, 40(6), 1419-1452.

Greenleaf, R. K. (2002). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Paulist Press.

Mayer, R. C., Davis, J. H., & Schoorman, F. D. (1995). An integrative model of organizational trust. Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 709-734.

Reina, D. S., & Reina, M. L. (2006). Trust & betrayal in

Comments: 1

  1. Simon Lehmann says:

    Thank you for this great article. I particularly appreciate the effort put into adding references, as they provide valuable supporting evidence and enhance the credibility of the article. It’s refreshing to see well-researched content that goes beyond personal anecdotes and includes relevant sources.
    Keep it up!

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