By Michael Gunther

While evaluating my own leadership journey, I have discovered that the journey is really about relationships in the workplace. If you think about it, every relationship we have is built on trust. Yet, leaders every day unknowingly break and destroy the trust they have with their teams. I have seen that sometimes it is overt, but most times leaders are injuring their team relationships due to not truly understanding what it takes to build a collaborative work environment.

You may have experienced this yourself. You think the team you’re managing is doing great, then all of sudden, you are hearing rumblings of issues rising that distract you and the team from achieving the goals or performance you want. Commonly, these issues surround miscommunication, workload balance and / or lack of accountability. But are these really just the symptoms or root causes of the disrupting behaviors and actions that are plaguing the team?

I have taken for granted, and I have seen other leaders take for granted, the amount of time and energy necessary to manage and coach a team of adults. I should actually say, the amount of time and energy it takes to build relationships to get a group of adults to work collaboratively. It gets back to building or breaking trust. I think we assume trust surrounds the concept of integrity or being honest.

Should a leader assume they have the trust of their team when they are communicating honestly with the group, when in fact, trust requires paying attention to the critical factors that can impact a relationship. Think of your own relationships, just being honest doesn’t necessarily make the relationship successful.

In business, I have found that there are seven core areas where leaders can break trust with a team:

  1. Lack of vision or purpose
  2. Unclear expectations or goals
  3. Little appreciation for communication differences and processes
  4. Inconsistent accountability of the team
  5. No clear focus on innovation or improvement
  6. Ignoring growth and learning needs of the individuals
  7. No conception of work load balance and reward drivers

These seven core areas are all intertwined with one another. In addition, all of them have an impact on the effectiveness of a leader in building relationships and becoming a true Collaborative Leader™. There is a tendency to try to fix one area without looking at the seven areas of trust at once.

For example, a software company came to Collaboration to assist them on improving communication within their workplace. The management’s perception was that their teams needed communication training and felt they were all under paid. We performed our Collaborative Work Environment™ assessment and discovered different issues. The communication and pay concerns were only symptoms of larger structural and leadership issues. The team actually believed they were fairly compensated, but they lacked clear direction from the leadership of the organization. The team also felt the leaders were not spending enough time planning out projects which led to confusion and crisis management.

This organization of over a 100 employees could have deployed some communication training and increased compensation. This would not have solved the true issues that were breaking trust with their teams: lack of vision, accountability and clear expectations. They could have invested in the wrong areas only to end up at the same spot they started.

Bottom Line

As a leader, your job is to build trust and solid working relationships with your team. As a Collaborative Leader™ you must also assess, on an ongoing basis, the crucial areas that support these two themes:  trust and relationships. If you don’t, you may be spending time and energy on trying to fix symptoms instead of the real issues impacting your team’s performance.

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