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Trust lies at heart of any teambuilding effort in the workplace

Trust lies at heart of any teambuilding effort in the workplace

Most consultants will admit that one of the most frequently requested training topics is “teambuilding.”

Many businesses struggle with employees who resist cooperating, squabble repeatedly, or basically just won’t work together. Managers recognize the importance of employees working together and reaching goals. They can tell when it is happening, but many don’t know what to do when it isn’t happening.

Training is often the Band-Aid applied to this situation. Employees report being sent to “teambuilding” or “communication skills” workshops, but often nothing changes. Unfortunately, the business wanted change and paid for change, but all it got was attendance. The key to building teams is addressing the underlying factor necessary for all teams and relationships — trust.

According to research conducted on trust in the workplace, there are three factors that must be present in order to begin building teams that work together. The first is a basic concern for others. No matter what has to be done, employees want to know that they matter as people. They need to know that their manager and co-workers care about them as individuals. This doesn’t mean that people need to spend a lot of time discussing their personal lives at work. It doesn’t mean that everyone has to be friends. Rather it means that significant events, personal challenges, and the recognition of having a personal life in addition to a work life are important. Respect for each other as individuals is an important component of this.

In addition to concern for others, another underlying factor essential to building trust is congruence. Employees need to know that co-workers and managers “walk their talk.” To say one thing and do another undermines trust. In the downsizings and layoffs of the 1980s, those businesses that shared realistic expectations and handled information about layoffs truthfully and transparently managed those transitions with fewer traumas for employees than those who didn’t. Businesses that announced that “things were fine” and subsequently delivered pink slips to their employees lost the trust not only of those persons laid off, but also of the “survivors.” If behaviors and words don’t match, employees learn not to believe what is said, but instead to watch what is done. Trust is a casualty of lack of congruence.

Having concern for others and acting with congruence are both important to building trust in all relationships, whether at work or in one’s personal life. An additional component to trust at work is competence. Employees need to believe co-workers are reasonably competent at their work. If not, the employees will have difficulty delegating or sharing tasks with someone who can’t “share the load” or deliver a quality product.

When lack of teamwork is a problem, it is important to look at the underlying factors present before assuming that teambuilding or communication training is the answer. If competence at work is an issue, one may have to look at errors in selection or individual training issues. If lack of concern for others or lack of congruence is a factor, especially across many relationships at work, then individual coaching might be needed. If the conflicted relationship is an isolated situation, often the solution is for the individuals to work it out together.

Organizational consultants recommend that co-workers engage in solving these situations themselves rather than having solutions imposed externally by a manager. A manager can serve as a mediator or hire someone to facilitate employees resolving trust issues.

There are several strategies that can be used to redirect co-workers depending on the source of the problem. Training in teambuilding is only one option. Co-workers who suffer with lack of trust need to participate in the design of their own solutions. Ultimately, if the problems arose within team relationships, the solutions lie there also.

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