Tag Archives: teamwork

Crucial Conversations QA

Rebuilding Trust After Layoffs

Dear Crucial Skills,

As a result of recent layoffs at our company, there is a lot of distrust between our management team and senior leadership. We’ve all been through Crucial Conversations Training. How can I use crucial conversations skills to rebuild trust and get the two groups talking again?

Two Groups Talking

Dear Two Groups,

Thank you for your timely question. For many, this scenario also occurs in the home as people struggle to build trust between a spouse or a child. When a crisis happens and choices are made that we may or may not agree with, it can be difficult to rebuild trust and get two groups or individuals to hold productive dialogue.

To answer your question, let me first review some important concepts and then provide a few suggestions.

Concept #1: In our thirty years of research and observation, one of the key findings we’ve uncovered is that all relationships, teams, families, and organizations have problems. The difference between the good and the best is not how many problems they have, but rather, how they resolve those problems.

Holding crucial conversations is about rapidly and respectfully resolving problems. And yet, as you’ve experienced, in tough times people often feel compelled to solve a problem rapidly, but at the expense of respect. Sometimes they do this because of urgencies, sometimes it’s just their style. Either way, this rapid and disrespectful approach causes others to disagree and lose trust. Layoffs certainly fit in that category as well as budget cuts, spending decisions, outbreaks of anger, and lack of involvement.

Concept #2: When held well, a crucial conversation can help you catch problems early, maximize input, make better decisions, and take more committed action.

When crucial conversations are avoided, distrust builds on both sides of an issue. As that distrust continues to rise, confidence or interest in quickly holding the very conversations that could help also decreases. So beware of avoiding the very crucial conversations your team may be facing for too long.

Suggestion #1: Meet with your team to talk through the issues ASAP.

As you’ve all been through Crucial Conversations Training, begin your dialogue with some key questions: “What do we really want: for us, for senior leadership, for our relationship?” “What should we do right now to get what we really want?”

I imagine that what some team members want is an apology or an assurance that their jobs are safe, or that they will not be kept in the dark and surprised if more changes arise. Also ask these key questions: “What are the key reasons for the feelings of mistrust?” “What do we really want going forward?”

Suggestion #2: As a team, identify the things you need to work on.

What do you and your team members need to do to build trust within your group? What do you need to do to build trust with the senior leadership team? Often agreeing and living a few specific behavioral commitments, or ground rules, will help the team see they can trust each other to make and keep commitments. Here are a couple of examples of commitments you can make:

1. We will keep confidential what is spoken in confidence.
We will speak well of all colleagues and coworkers regardless of level or department, and if we have an issue we will speak to the individual privately and respectfully.

After you have made these commitments, regularly ask each other how you are doing, what has gone well, and what you need to improve on. Too frequently, we have agreements about budget or work behaviors, but not about teaming behaviors. Several weeks of setting and living these ground rules can help build trust within the team.

Suggestion #3: Recognize your role in building trust and improving relationships.

Instead of asking, “What should senior leadership do?” ask “What can we do to improve our relationship with senior leadership?” Also remember to master your stories and ask “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person act in the way they did?” Remember that when it matters most, we often do our worst. If your team will give senior leadership the benefit of the doubt and conclude that maybe the company’s financial standing is more complex than they realize, then you can, with mutual purpose, invite your boss or members of the senior leadership team to dialogue. Your purpose in this conversation is to reach a mutual understanding. The apology or the assurance that some employees are looking for may not be forthcoming, but if you engage in a process that is built on mutual purpose and is safe for all parties, you’ll make progress.

This advice is equally applicable to personal or family relationships. Crises, bad behaviors, or ineffective decisions can damage trust in these familial relationships. Often, an appropriate and sincere apology is enough begin dialogue.

When there is an opportunity for a crucial conversation, there are only three options: avoid it, face it and hold it badly, or face it and handle it well. The most common problem is avoidance. Silence and time cure so very few issues. If you can put issues on the table and work at resolving them rapidly and respectfully, then trust is likely to increase.

Best wishes,

Crucial Accountability QA

Working with a Difficult Employee

Dear Crucial Skills,
When I recently assumed my current job, I “inherited” an employee who has a long history of bad behavior such as being rude, stirring up trouble, and refusing to work with coworkers as a team player. How do I confront this person when the whole department has played into his behavior for years?

Inherited Employee

Dear Inherited,

“Inheriting” an employee with a history of bad behavior is a concern for any leader. I strongly recommend your first conversation with this employee not be a “shake-down” or a “you’d better be careful cuz I’m watching you!” speech. Rather, you ought to extend a sincere handshake followed by friendly introductions.

The next step is orienting your employees to your leadership style and expectations. Even before exploring specific duties or concerns, explain the operating values and principles of your team and your expectations of team members. It’s best if this is a collaborative process involving the entire team, but at a minimum, everyone needs to be clear about the team values and operating principles. Explain that employees are not only responsible to produce results but are also responsible to produce results in a way that strengthens the team in the process. Give specific examples of what is acceptable behavior and what is out of bounds. This kind of orientation with your team sets clear expectations and gives everyone a chance for a new start—independent from past patterns and personality conflicts.

Your next leader-role with the team is teacher and coach. This requires gathering data through contact and observation, especially with the employee you have concerns about. Over the next few days, catch the employee, in the moment, doing things right. Acknowledge when his behavior approximates an important team value or principle and thank him. For example, you might say:

“Hey, Brent, I noticed in the team meeting when Alice asked for ideas about her project, you gave several helpful suggestions. That is a great example of our team value of collaboration. Your input helped Alice and helped to build a stronger team. Thank you.”

Similarly, when you see behavior that violates the team’s values, confront it as soon as is reasonably possible. Do this by first describing the gap by factually detailing what happened compared with what is expected. Next, ask why it happened this way. You could say:

“Brent, I noticed that when Jerry presented his proposal, you said his plan was ‘idiotic’ and asked him if he had ever heard of ‘professional standards’ before. One of our team principles is to treat each other with respect. Your comment was clearly disrespectful. Why did you say that?”

If he responds that he didn’t realize his comment was disrespectful, take the opportunity to define more precisely what is meant by the value of respect.

If he replies that it’s no big deal, then you have the opportunity to teach consequences and make the invisible visible. It could be that one reason for his past friction with employees is that no one helped him understand the negative, natural consequences his behavior had on others.

If he replies that he knows he shouldn’t do that, but can’t help himself, it becomes an opportunity to teach him the skills to start with heart or master his stories.

After each conversation, move to action. Get a clear and specific commitment from him about who will do what by when, and then follow-up on that commitment.

Clear expectations, as well as frequent and immediate praise and confrontation, are your best chance to help someone work well with others in a new setting.

Of course, this approach requires patience and persistence, and you must always give people the opportunity and the help they may need to improve. However, if over time, he does not comply and his poor behavior continues, make sure he understands that following the team principles and values is not a suggestion, it’s a requirement of his job.

At this point, it’s time to move from helping him understand the natural consequences of bad behavior to the consequences you will impose on him if he doesn’t comply. Clarify that the consequences of not working within the team standards are the steps of discipline identified by the organization, even including termination. Make sure he understands that failure to comply with your requirements around teamwork will result in you applying the steps of discipline. Moving this far is very serious and will most likely damage your working relationship with him, but at some point, his failure to abide by the team’s standards is a detriment both to the results you’re after as a leader and your other team members’ quality of life. Choosing what’s best for the team is more important than trying to preserve a troubled relationship.

My experience has been that this approach helps most employees—even those with a history of bad behavior—to improve their behavior and relationships with others. It also improves the team’s results. Please keep in mind this approach does not guarantee the changes in others you desire; it’s not a way of controlling others; it’s not a trick for manipulating others. This is a way to respectfully help individuals choose to be successful. Ultimately, it’s the individual’s choice whether or not to be a part of the enterprise you lead, and that’s as it should be.

All the Best,

Influencer QA

Uniting Divided Teams

Dear Crucial Skills,

I read your survey results on long-distance loathing with great interest. I work for a multi-site corporation and approximately two-thirds of our staff are in one city while the rest are dispersed over five smaller sites. Despite significant efforts to bring our teams together, there is still a strong sense of us and them. Can you recommend any strategies to make long-distance working relationships more cohesive?

Teamwork at a Distance

Dear Teamwork,

Yes! There is a great deal you can do to build teamwork among widely dispersed people. A good way to begin organizing your change effort is to think about all the sources of influence that create conflict and alienation in your current environment.

So first you need to ask, “What can I do to increase conflict?”

It turns out you can get almost any two people to resent each other if you do a number of things:

  • Give them a separate identity or goals.
  • Make it difficult for them to communicate.
  • Have them associate with a social group that already resents the others.
  • Make it difficult for them to help each other or limit their communication to official channels by imposing a chain of command.
  • Reward them for individual achievements or for supporting those in their geography but not the larger team.
  • Keep them physically isolated—allow few means for them to communicate and then only in sterile ways (voice only, e-mail, etc.)

Now, if you’ve read our book, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, you’ll notice I’ve just outlined six unique sources of influence. I’ve also described reality for most dispersed teams. And finally, what I’ve done is describe a set of influences that will make it inevitable that individuals will, at best, tolerate those in other locations and at worst despise them.

Now some readers might think “inevitable” is too strong a word. But take a look at the findings from our recent Long Distance Loathing study:

  • Employees are 243 percent more likely to have problems with distant coworkers than co-located coworkers.
  • Employees report that these problems are much more difficult to solve and last much longer.
  • In order to cope with annoying distant coworkers rather than step up to crucial conversations they resorted to the following tactics when working with these colleagues: avoided their phone calls, stopped reading their e-mails, avoided working with them altogether, witheld information from them, criticized them to others, and challenged their decisions.

So, what can a leader do? Well, if the six sources of influence I already outlined are the reason for the resentment, then distance doesn’t make conflict inevitable. Distance is only one source of influence. You’ve got five other sources you can use to create a cohesive team. However, it will require work. It will require intentional effort. But what human change doesn’t?

Here are a few examples for using multiple sources of influence:

Source 1: Personal Motivation—Make a greater effort than usual to create team identity and purpose. Have a mission, charter, and operating rules. Have a team name. If possible, have periodic face-to-face meetings. Take extra care as new members join the team. Create as much face time as possible so people connect at a human level, not just a task level.

Source 2: Personal Ability—Build much better crucial conversations skills. This isn’t just a self-serving argument—it is an essential skill-set for ensuring people don’t resort to the dysfunctional games we describe above.

Sources 3 & 4: Social Motivation and Ability—Work to build bonds of friendship and trust. Begin meetings by having one or more people share a personal anecdote. Have the team work together on volunteer tasks, personal betterment tasks, etc. For example, have them raise money for United Way as a team, run races in their communities, or come together to build a Habitat for Humanity home.
Have team members from different locales meet together at client sites or work together on the same client’s projects.

Set the norm that everyone holds everyone accountable—you can’t afford to involve a manager.

Schedule frequent, formal feedback sessions—times when you specifically ask about what’s working and what’s not. When you have a concern, talk it out—don’t act it out.

Source 5: Structural Motivation—Use small prizes or awards—maybe competitions—that provide the occasion for recognition. Distance often removes informal opportunities to say “thanks.” Make sure you frequently let people know you are aware of their contribution and appreciate their work.

Source 6: Structural Ability—Provide daily or weekly progress on key business indicators that track the team’s performance.
Make sure people have visual reminders of their team members—photos that are near their phones or computers.

Create a Web site, Facebook page, or other social networking hub for sharing information. Stay on top of technical barriers—for example, often small changes to the organization’s network will deny access to remote workers.

If possible, have a physical “teaming space” where team members can meet. You may also have shared workspaces where people can set up temporary offices for more intensive face-to-face interactions.

Ask team members to define their core work hours—to build in some predictability as they attempt to contact each other.

Bottom line: If you systematically and intentionally counter the sources of influence that create conflict, you’ll inevitably see cooperation. Conflict is not the natural human condition. We are social creatures at the level of our DNA. All that’s needed is wise leadership to bring out the best and truest parts of our nature!

Good luck,