How To Resolve Trust Issues In Your Team

It is always critical for a new manager to be able to understand the expectations of the team, since it’s the team’s relationship that dictates the success or failure of his responsibility. This is easily achieved by an activity called ‘New Manager Assimilation’ which my friend Rekha Narendra has run for many years. In this, the conveyor of the meeting (normally an HR rep) spends time with the team to understand their expectations from the new manager – what they want to know about him, what is it that they like in their team, what is it that has not worked, the behaviors that they expect from the new manager and also what they absolutely dislike. These notes are then shared with the new manager who conducts a subsequent meeting with the team to calibrate his understanding of their views, and responds to the list of questions under the ‘want to know about him’ category.

While the above is a relatively easy and simple process, the key is in the execution, as the conveyor of the meeting should be able to handle initial trust issues through proper communication and warming up initiatives.

Now let’s discuss a more complex situation – here an already established manager has received relatively poor feedback from his team, and there is a repetitive pattern to this. The ideal action would be to transfer the manager, but in my view that should be the very last option.

The first step is to have a sit down with the manager and discuss the need for a solution, which begins with the realisation and acceptance of an existing problem. Many times, it is a matter of disbelief for the manager as they don’t agree that anything is wrong – it is usually “I work very hard with the team”, “I am there for them always”, “it is only an issue with some people and not the majority” type of comments. The sooner they can get away from this defensive mode, the earlier we can move towards resolving the relationship gaps.

Once the manager has agreed that there is a problem, s/he should be convinced that you are there to support them and are not going to throw them under the bus. Once that is done, it is time to identify areas of concern that need mending, and while we can read many reports etc, the fastest way forward is straight from the horse’s mouth, as it is engaging, personalised and leaves the audience with the conviction around intent. Post that, it is time to arrange a meeting with the entire team (if team size is more than 10 than break them into batches). Ideally, any neutral person can conduct the meeting, but it will never have the same impact as it would if that very manager conducts the session. The manager, by doing this, gets first hand feedback, can understand the emotions and can ask clarifying questions. But there is one rule you should embrace – this is a meeting to get the team to speak up, not one where the manager offers rebuttals or tries to enter defence mode. It is very important that the body language promotes warmth, comfort and openness, thus allowing for an honest and frank discussion.

While the meeting is in progress, the manager should ensure that they take enough notes and ask clarifying questions or examples. The meeting should continue till each and every employee has spoken and shared their concerns. Ideally, we should not attempt a resolution on that very day, instead close the meeting and promise another follow up meeting soon. Spend the next few days working alone or with your super boss to review the points and prepare a detailed action plan with expected outcomes clearly mentioned. Once the manager has made an honest attempt to plan the fixes, another meeting should be conveyed where the manager shares his plan with his team, brings them onboard with the intended actions, and encourages the team to contribute to any changes as appropriate. The meeting needs to end with an assurance that s/he is serious about delivering an improved team environment, with a continued request for support whereby any positive or negative actions that goes for/against the plan could be brought to his/her notice so that they can alter their direction accordingly.

Such a process can be followed at all levels, from a CEO all the way down to a team manager, and has delivered results in my career. If done honestly and with the right intent, I can guarantee a long lasting and mutually beneficial relationship, with higher than expected employee satisfaction scores.

@creating great workplaces

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