3 (Little) Things That Can Wreck a Team and How to Fix Them

threelittlethingsLike any relationship, the relationship you have with your workforce doesn’t just happen overnight. Creating an environment where you and your employees work together, interact, and relate to one another takes time and effort. But, building a great team is worth every second you invest. When you and your employees work well together it fosters a more engaged, focused, happy, and unified workforce, all of which positively impacts your company’s productivity, retention, recruitment, and profitability.

However, while it takes time to build a great team, it doesn’t always take a lot to wreck one. Check out these three things that can bulldoze the team you’ve worked hard to build and learn how to fix them fast.

Miscommunication at work can occur in an instant but its lasting impact can be hard to overcome. Even the smallest overlooked word could lead to a misunderstanding that affects your entire team. It causes conflict, hinders productivity, and leads to distrust and disunity. If left alone, miscommunication can result in lost revenue and expensive turnover.

The Fix
To keep miscommunication from wrecking your team and costing you time and productivity, be resolute in creating a workplace atmosphere of clear and open communication. Lead the way in effective interaction by being mindful of how you communicate in even the briefest conversations. If, for example, while on your way to the break room for your morning cup of coffee, you quickly decide to ask for a report from an employee who’s passing by, make sure they understand exactly what you need and when you expect it. And, ask for any questions, feedback, or concerns they may have before heading back to your desk.

Understand that even your casual, request could unintentionally communicate to your employee a lack of respect or understanding of their time if the individual is experiencing a heavy workload or that your request may be more time intensive than you realize. If that’s the case, a scheduled meeting where you work together to find a solution that fits their workload and your deadline might be a better method of communication than a passing comment in the break room. Part of successful communication is determining the most effective medium for every message, whether it’s a meeting, conference call, or an e-mail.

It’s also important to remember that communication goes both ways. So take the time to really listen to your team. Ask for feedback and be receptive to employee input. Be careful to make sure you’re not misunderstanding their interaction with you. And recognize that occasionally you may be called upon to mediate between staff members when miscommunication occurs.

Different generations in the workplace can further complicate communication. They all have different communications preferences. So you may need to tailor your efforts to suit the specific needs of each generation. Asking – and permitting – follow-up questions is a great way to ensure everyone’s on the same page.

Trust is at the foundation of every good team and a crucial part of creating a reputation as a preferred place to work. Without trust, the structure of a team can crumble fast. Distrust often starts from something small – a misunderstanding or a forgotten promise. But once distrust sets in, it can be a long road to back to a trusting environment. In order to function effectively, your team must work in an environment of trust. Employers rely on their staff everyday, so businesses need employees they can trust to operate successfully. And, in return employees need to be able to trust the leadership they follow. No one wants to work in an environment of suspicion, and employees won’t stay long at a company that lacks trust.

The Fix
Trust took a hard hit in many organizations when the economic downturn led to layoffs and salary freezes in 2008 and 2009. The 2010 Ethics and Workplace Survey conducted by Deloitte LLP, a financial consulting firm, found that respondents who planned to seek new job opportunities cited loss of trust, lack of transparency in communication, and unethical behavior by employers as reasons for leaving.

To establish trust in your workplace, act with integrity at all times because your actions will almost always speak louder than words. When you act with integrity and honor, you strengthen employee loyalty and dependability. In order to earn trust, you also have to give it. Let your staff know that you depend on them, that you trust them. The more trust you give, the more you’re likely to get back.

In every interaction, be open, but, more importantly, be honest. Leaving out vital information in your interactions can lead to speculation. Lack of honesty and openness forces employees to rely on hearsay and gossip which often leads to misunderstanding and undermines trust. Rumors spread and secrets that can threaten the development of trust are whispered about at the water cooler and on coffee breaks. If not stopped, they can spread like a virus, destroying year’s worth of great relationships.

Communicating honestly can sometimes be a challenge, but it will pay off big time when employees know they can trust you. When you are in a position that you can’t share information, validate your team’s concerns by letting them know you hear and understand their apprehension. Remember that trust isn’t automatic. It has to be earned. So go to work every day with the resolve to earn the loyalty and trust of your team.

Great teams are built on mutual respect. But, respect can be an unintended victim of today’s fast-paced environment where stress, tensions, and workloads are high. Disrespect often starts small. Common courtesy and civility sometimes disappear for the sake of approaching deadlines and the need to perform. Disrespect can create an atmosphere of criticism and condescension. When disrespect invades a workplace, it can also lead to expensive legal and HR issues like bullying and harassment, and employee engagement suffers. Employees lose time and motivation by worrying about incidents that occurred, resulting in lost productivity.

The Fix
Businesses can’t afford for disrespectful behavior to go unchecked in the workplace. If disrespectful behavior is occurring between co-workers or managers on your team, address the issues immediately. Don’t wait for things to get out of hand before you step in. Let your employees know that inappropriate behaviors will not be tolerated at work.

Be the example you want your team to follow by being respectful in your speech and in your actions. Like trust, the more respect you give to others, the more likely they are to give respect in return.

Stress is often one of the biggest catalysts for disrespect and rudeness in the workplace. Employees who are stressed out are more likely to engage in confrontation with other co-workers. So, find ways to reduce stress in your workplace. Try adding play into your team’s day. Finding ways to make work more fun will help reduce stress and improve employee morale and engagement. Fun team building exercises or activities at the office or away are a great way to get started.

Building a great team is important to the success of your company. So don’t let miscommunication, distrust, and disrespect wreck what you’ve worked hard to build.

4 Responses to 3 (Little) Things That Can Wreck a Team and How to Fix Them

  1. Paul Haas October 5, 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    Aside from the need to address obvious generational and work ethic issues, how should the management create new forms of communication with employees who don’t read or write except in very short blasts on social networking sites. How do we address the Facebook & Twitter generation for team building purposes?

  2. Ian MacNeil October 6, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    Paul – In my training experience of building communication skills with entry-level employees, I do not recommend introducing new forms of communication for your teams. The sheer number of modalities of communication is confusing enough for managers to handle. Instead, your challenge seems to me more of a recruiting opportunity than an internal communication issue. If an employee is expected to use proper grammar in spoken and written communications while performing his/her job duties, then that requirement needs to be clearly stated on the job specification. There are plenty of ways to test for this competency prior to hiring. A new challenge of speaking in a professional manner on the phone to customers/guests/fellow employees is also facing managers with younger employees. Recruiting and follow-up staff training is my recommendation to improve your dilemma.

  3. John Daniel Gore October 19, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    Paul– Ian is onto something. Do not assume that all employees from the millenial generation only write in short blasts on social network sites. I, for example, would consider myself an expansive writer and a millenial at the same time (I’m 24).
    By addressing reading and writing expectations at the recruitment phase, you can select for those characteristics and, in doing so, make them important in the overall job market. Especially at this point in history, you can take advantage of a buyers’ market.
    If employers continue to select candidates who write in the manner that you describe– short bursts on social media– then finding applicants with the characteristics you mentioned will become increasingly difficult as time goes on. As a young person who relies on strong verbal skills, I would encourage you to prolong your search (when possible) and find the thoughtful writers rather than trying to adapt to short-burst communication. Don’t let anyone call you a dinosaur for valuing quality over speed in your interactions.

  4. dorothy scott October 26, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    I say keep hiring the bulls and leave us thoroghbreds alone. I have taken enough from straight from home managers in the work place who treat adults like they are younger siblings at home. Team work is just that, it is work. It is a group set to accomplish a goal. Sincerely, a friend.

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