As a new supervisor, how do I build rapport with the informal group within the department?

Even where teamwork is pervasive, informal work groups can survive. Their existence can make it harder for you to build the trust and openness that is a part of teamwork. You can ignore the existence of the informal group, but that will only make the role of leader of the group a more difficult task, with the informal group intervening each and every step of the way.

The answer for you, as a manager, is to build rapport with the leader of the informal work group. Within an informal work group, there are usually one or more members who have earned the respect of the other employees and are viewed by the other group members as a leader. By virtue of an informal leader's special role and status, he or she is in a position to "make things happen" or, conversely, "not happen." But this person also is in the position to help you become accepted and established as the formal group leader.

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How do you identify the leader of the informal group? Observe the interactions of the group. Who tends to speak for the other members? Which group member do the other employees seek out when they need advice or assistance?

Once you have identified the informal group leader, you must initiate and nurture a positive working relationship with that person. Ask for help and assistance from the informal leader. This doesn't mean you have to seek his or her advice every time you make a decision. Doing so would, in fact, make you appear weak and ineffective to the other employees. A more realistic approach is to engage the informal leader on matters that personally concern group members. This does not mean that the informal leader should be given the final say on all decisions—it means simply that input should be asked of the informal leader.

Over time, the instances in which you must consult with the informal leader are likely to decline. Over time, you will gain the credibility you need with members of the group.

How can I build trust from the team?

Mutual trust is a key characteristic of an effective team. The most significant adhesive binding team members together is mutual trust. In light of financial scandals at various corporations, at no time has this been as important. Trust translates into credibility or belief in a person.

In everyday conversations, when employees speak of trust in their manager, they are thinking in terms of:




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Reliability. They expect their manager to carry through on promises. If you say that you'll do something, they want to know they can count on your word.

Fairness. Employees believe that their manager will not take advantage in any way. If they disagree with their manager or have to give him or her "bad news," they believe that they won't be punished in any way. They can trust their manager to listen to their ideas without fear of disapproval, either now or in the future.

Truthfulness. Team employees count on their manager to express feelings freely, to say what he or she means as well as mean what he or she says. There are no games being played on either side in a well-managed team. No one plays flimflam. If an employee in a high-trust team operation is uncertain what the manager meant, he or she can simply ask the manager to clarify his or her remarks.

Trust is a value, and like many values it is best understood by considering the behaviors associated with it. Consider the following:

Consistency and predictability. Unpredictable behavior breeds anxiety and mistrust. (Visualize an employee who repeatedly and anxiously tells peers, "I hope this is what the manager wants.")

A congenial, supportive atmosphere. You should be able to express your feelings freely and thereby build a sense of intimacy among members. Feelings that are withheld make for mistrust.

Support. Behaviors like sharing, clarifying, and giving praise are all supportive and encourage trust. Belittling others or nit-picking about errors stimulate distrust.

Coaching and counseling. A willingness on your part to spend time helping an employee improve his or her performance builds trust.

Listening. Consider the alternative: "The manager never listens to what we have to say." That suggests lack of trust.

Encouragement of questions. Again, a willingness to answer questions from the group demonstrates a desire to build trust between you and the group.

Courteousness. Considerate behavior impacts favorably on trust.

Opportunities for experimentation and risk taking. These build trust so long as failures are considered as learning opportunities, not mistakes for which team members are punished. Taking miscues in stride, as opposed to stressing errors and shortcomings, builds trust.

Accurate, reliable information. It makes for trust whereas mixed messages make for mistrust.

Brainstorming with the group and treating all the results with respect. Adjectives like "silly," "far-out," or "impractical" aren't used. Rather, you would say, "Let's review all of our ideas and select those on which we can get full agreement."

Insistence on face-to-face criticism of a team. This builds trust, not backstabbing, which divides team members and generates distrust.

Consensual decision making, when used appropriately. Decisions based on fiat reduce trust.

Use of win/win problem solving approaches. Making points or winning over others makes for distrust.

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