How to Lose Trust and Alienate Clients

Victor Munteanu’s job is to, literally, not trust people. As a Test Architect at Levi9, he often needs to play devil’s advocate, verify releases, and check if something really works even when he is repeatedly assured it does. But he says trust is essential, just like the Force in Star Wars: it’s what makes the teams and projects work. Over the years, he has seen trust painstakingly built and quickly eroded. Recently, he shared his insights about how fragile trust can be, but also how to protect it.

Trust in IT is like the Force in Star Wars

What exactly is trust? How do we define “trust” in a team and how do we define “trust” when it comes to the customer? In the IT context, trust has two important dimensions: trust among team members and trust with stakeholders. Internally, trust among team members refers to the unwavering belief in one another’s dependability, competence, and ethical behavior within the IT team. It promotes effective collaboration, open communication, and a shared sense of responsibility, allowing the team to work cohesively toward common goals.

“Trust in IT is like the Force in Star Wars,” Victor says. “It governs the dynamics of the team and the collaboration with the client.” Where there is trust, communication flows easily, productivity rises, and innovations emerge. Where trust is lacking, projects slow down, frustrations escalate, and relationships deteriorate.


“For me, trust means you rely on someone else to ‘do the right thing.’ The biggest problem is defining for each person what that ‘right thing’ is. Everyone comes from different projects with different standards of what competence and work ethic mean to them.”


A shared sense of ‘doing the right thing’ promotes transparency regarding skill level, work production, and assessments. Trust serves as the foundation for efficient project staffing, execution, and monitoring.


On the flip side, when trust is lacking, it shows itself as stress, micromanagement, and postponed releases due to the need for more supervision. If the team’s capacity to achieve the product vision is seriously doubted, the client relationship may come to an end.

Losing the client's trust

Trust is easily lost. Sometimes all it takes is a stray comment that crosses the line. As Victor reminds, you must “not openly doubt the client’s business” in their presence. Once that seed of distrust is planted, he explains, clients will “feel attacked from the start.” Breaching commitments can also erode trust over time. “A commitment doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do something,” Victor clarifies. “It’s that you give your best effort to the work you have to do.”


Victor cautioned against the following common mistakes that diminish client trust:

In this context, Victor draws a clear line between promises and commitments, which he sees as two different things: “A promise is almost a contract wherein you ensure something will be done. Commitment is promising you will use your abilities to their best to TRY and achieve a result.” His advice is to never commit on the spot. “Even if it’s doable, take the time to understand the need, don’t just agree to do something because you know how to do it”, explains Victor.

Losing the team's trust

Victor remembers a particular situation in which too much trust in the team hurt. It was something as simple as a holiday leave, with another person being left in charge of a release. Unfortunately, the backup person followed outdated documentation, having not done this in awhile and not been kept up to date. “It was a fiasco,” Victor recalls. “Wrong environment, failed tests, wasted effort. But because we didn’t have good handover procedures, the teammate assumed things hadn’t changed.”


A situation like this is one of the many ways that trust can be eroded within a team. Some other common ways include:

Trust the process instead

Over the years, Victor decided to rely less on interpersonal trust and more on standardized, documented processes. When exhaustive testing is impossible, testers use sampling techniques to minimize risk, much like standardized processes minimize human error risks.


“I trust processes much more,” Victor said. “To me, this saves a lot of mistakes. And when mistakes happen, you can trace the process to see where things went wrong.” Test automation relies on the same principle, virtually eliminating human error.


For Victor, the key is to “trust that people know and follow the established process.” Some trust in colleagues is still needed, but robust processes leave little room for individual interpretation and deviations. With everything documented, gaps get easily highlighted in retrospect.

How to build trust

Victor acknowledges that trust between clients and team members is still vital to productive partnerships, even though he is in favor of procedural rigor. He picked up some important trust-building principles over the years:

“Talk about it!”, is one of Victor’s key advices. “Share opinions with your team about what can be done to make sure you have a good process that everyone can follow. Make sure you establish that process so that you don’t set up people to fail.”


Still, Victor knows there is no perfect formula to guarantee trust in teams. Processes, automation and, in the end, good team communication help to minimize uncertainty and keep trust flowing when it matters.

In this article:
12 February 2024

Related posts