The Peter Principle and its impact on trust and the team

Everyone who has ever worked has probably witnessed the Peter Principle at work. This is where someone is hired and placed, or promoted passed their level of competence. As I am sure we can all attest, this is not a fun thing to have to deal with (assuming it is not you who has been PP’d).

There is a lot to be said about trust in a supervisor. If you don’t trust that the person who supervises you, makes decisions that directly affect you, understand the direction they are leading your department/team/business then you won’t feel confident in following them. You will feel apprehensive and doubting.

Friedlander (1970) found that trust helped the formation of group development and facilitates the ease to which a person can assimilate.  Being able to trust that the group is doing the right thing will allow ease of training.  By modifying our expectations and self-handicapping we can modify the impact from failure’s effect on our self-esteem.  By setting lower goals and expectations for ourselves, we allow ourselves to accomplish less or not strive so as to not completely damage our self-worth (Seli, Dembo, & Crocker, 2009).  Trust allows us to feel better and therefore be allowed to effectively be trained.

Yukl (2006) explains that high levels of cooperation and trust will ensure a team in carrying out its mission.  Keeping these values high will keep the team members helping each other, sharing information, and working together better in stressful situations (Yukl, 2006).  It is therefore important for the leader to foster better teamwork and communication to keep the flow of information moving and the team functioning at its highest capacity. But if you don’t trust the leader why would you follow them? Why would this make a stressful situation not as stressful?

The Peter Principle does not end up just placing an incompetent person in one role in the organization. This person ends up infecting the entire culture of trust and productivity of the company. It infects the well-being of departments, output, and teamwork. It is incredibly important then for those that hire and place people in jobs do their homework to make sure they are getting the right person to help make those decisions, foster trust, and enhance their organization.



Friedlander, F. (1970). The primacy of trust as a facilitator of further group accomplishment. Journal of Applied Behavior Science, 6(4), 387-400. DOI: 10.1177/002188637000600401

Seli, H., Dembo, M.H., & Crocker, S (2009). Self in self-worth protection: The relationship of possible selves and self-protective strategies. College Student Journal, 43(3). 832-842.

Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in organizations (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.


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