Scenario: Broken Trust

As an Action Learning Coach how would you handle the following situation:

You are doing a leadership development program with 8 peers in a consulting firm.  One of the participants reports that her boss brought an issue with her yesterday that she had discussed in the action learning group a week ago.  She is very upset.  (The problem centered around not being given the responsibility that her boss had promised her when she was hired a year ago.) Additionally, the team had agreed to keep what was said during the Action Learning sessions in the sessions.

Tags: Action Learning Coach, WIAL Action Learning

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Comments (5)

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    Colleen Carruthers


    Wow, I think this is the trickiest scenario posted so far for me. On one hand I would want to bring this up at the next session by returning to the team’s ground rules of confidentiality but not directly aimed at the individual but a general discussion and the other half of me would want to have a private conversation with the person to sort this out and decide on an action plan for taking this to the group. Help Help I’m really interested in hearing more about this scenario.


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    Phil Cohen


    I agree Colleen, this is a tricky situation. As i understand the problem, the impacted individual has brought this to the attention of the AL coach. My responsibility as the AL coach is to help the team and all of its’ individual members learn and also to develop cohesion and trust.
    I would ask this person to leave this with me, that I will bring up the issue (violating trust) without divulging any specifics or his/her name at the next AL set and to trust the AL process to rectify this problem.

    To this end, at the next AL set I would allow the current problem to be presented and then ask the problem presenter to what degree confidentiality is important to him/her.
    a) was it not important; and thus the problem could be discussed in totality outside of the group;
    b)could it be discussed in general terms outside of the group, without divulging specifics and names,,
    c) must the information discussed be kept totally within the confines of the AL group
    Regardless of the response, i would then ask ” what impact would there be on the group if the confidentiality agreement was not upheld by any one or more group members. The ensuing discussion would no doubt .raise individual members feelings in that regard. There is a possibility, that the individual who violated the earlier trust might be revealed or that person may even volunteer that they acted inappropriately. Regardless i would let the group set the norm. Depending on the outcome of the group discussion i might also ask what action the group would take should the trust be violated in the future. Another question might center on what responsibility do individual group members have in rectifying a wrong that may have occurred to the person whose confidentiality was violated.

    By so doing, I am hopeful that for the future, the concerns this one individual had (for the most part) will be placated and that the group will have developed greater respect one for the other.

    .. …


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    Aisya Hamid


    I agree this is tricky.

    After putting a rather long thoughts on this case, (assuming that I’m in AL session with the same set of team that allegedly breached the confidentiality) I will ask the team:

    What do you think about Psychological Safety?
    What happen when trust is lost?
    How do we perform at our best without trust in a team?
    How do we regain trust?

    I’m really curious on what other coaches will do in this situation. Can’t wait to hear from others!


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    This is a very tricky one. Ideally, the participant would bring it to the team. As this is really for the team to process through – not for me as coach to fix. The trickiest part is calling attention to the behavior without finger pointing at the person involved in the current incidence.

    However, if they refused to bring it up, I always start a subsequent session with a team asking what norms we had agreed to as a team. If the confidentiality one is not mentioned – I would ask if we had one around confidentiality?

    If they did have a confidentiality norm, my next question would be – what do we mean by confidentiality? (Assuming complete confidentiality – nothing leaves the room). I would follow with – Why is it important after agreeing to complete confidentiality we honor that by leaving the conversation in the room? How can we make sure we adhere to this agreement and not continue this conversation beyond these walls?

    More often I’ve seen the perception that the session was going to be confidential but no discussion was actually had. The other one is folks agree to confidential, but have different understandings of that. For me as soon as something sensitive is brought up I ask – do we need a confidentiality norm? What do we mean by confidentiality?

    Happy Coaching


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