Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When doing team development, why focus on trust and building relationships?

by Peter Aubry

This question often arises when working with a client to design a team building day. It usually comes up in the process of creating a needs assessment. Sometimes this is followed by a request to just focus on problem-solving methodology and to stay away from the interpersonal dynamics on the team or individual team member needs. This area of work is often referred to as the “touchy-feely” aspect and many clients don’t want any of that in their program!

Amazingly enough, this request not to get “too touchy-feely” is made by a variety of clients including social service agencies, schools and corporate groups.

When this concern comes up, I usually address it in the context of the John Adair model. 

The Adair model indicates that, in addition to communication, motivation and vision, the leader must attend to building the team, developing individuals and, yes, accomplishing the task.

In my experience, trust is the most essential element in good work relationships and especially in developing high performing teams. Although trusting each other at work makes everything much easier, it is not easy to achieve. In many work worlds, employees are rewarded for controlling and protecting information that insures they keep their position in the company. Knowledge is power and security, right? Expertise, technical or otherwise, makes you irreplaceable, right? So why share information and expertise in these environments?

Clients often ask, “Can we build the team and not deal with the problem of relationships on the team?”
How would you respond to this?
One answer I offer is that they can, but then, do they really need a team? Wouldn’t they be better served by a ‘work group’? A work group can deliver solid performance results when all is said and done. The work group has a central leader who directs various functions with all members reporting directly to him or her. They deal with all the conflicts and issues and are ultimately responsible for the results. So…yes you can deal with just the task at hand. Why then would you want a team? In their book The Wisdom of Teams, J.R. Katzenbach and Douglas Smith suggest that work groups are used when organizations are not looking for significant incremental performance results. A Real Team, on the other hand, is looking to achieve significant results, sometimes exponential, and has a group of people “who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold each other accountable.” Therefore, if we are going to build a team, don’t we have to address the people side of the equation?

There is a tendency in some work cultures to avoid conflict or have management deal with conflict. This can stem from an underlying mistrust in the organization, other individuals, the team or the team leader, etc. So how do you build a team of people if they are going to avoid conflict or have underlying trust issues? I would venture to say that you have to focus on relationships and the subject of trust as it relates to the team.

What would you say? At Project Adventure, we address this topic by having teams develop norms of behavior that allow them to deal with the issues that arise in an environment of safety. Having the ability and resources to deal with conflict that naturally arises on a team is critical. It is also important to define those issues that management, human resources or leadership must deal with versus the team.

Team Norms can be developed and tied to organizational values. If values are not specific, and stated, they can be developed as part of the leadership team development.

Moving a team toward high performance must include focusing on the relationships and trust that exist on the team as well as the level of commitment of individuals on that team.

How do you address team development at your workplace? Do you work as a team or as a work group? What helps your team to function better?