Tuesday, March 31, 2009 by Dave Blum

The longer I work in the field of corporate team building activities, the more I realize that trust building is THE key factor for ensuring team success.  By declaring this I don’t, in any way, mean to diminish the importance of such vital team elements as personnel assessment, delegation, process creation, communication, and staff appreciation.  I’m only saying that teams consist of people, and people are motivated, in large part, by the trust they feel for those in their group or community.    Trust is the base on which everything else stands.

So, how do you go about building trust in your teams?  Glad you asked! That’s exactly what I’ll be writing about over the next few days.  Let’s start with today’s lesson:


alt=Gossip title=Gossip>A case in point:  A few years back, I was developing some new team building exercises with a committee of four of my local facilitators.  One of them – let’s call him Steve – mentioned that he’d had trouble in the past relating to one of my senior trainers (we’ll call him Jack).  As Jack couldn’t attend our first two program planning meetings, Steve felt that this was the perfect opportunity force Jack off of the committee.   Although Steve was the most vociferous person in favor of Jack’s ousting, the remaining two committee-members – Chuck and Lois – agreed that Jack was sometimes difficult to work with.  Somehow…without double-checking with Steve, Chuck or Lois…I interpreted that the majority will was for ME to intercede with Jack and kick him off the committee.  Later that day, I got on the phone with Jack and nervously blurted out something like, “The other facilitators don’t like working with you.  I’d like you to step down from the group.”  You can imagine Jack’s reaction:

“Who said that?  Why didn’t they tell me directly!  I can’t believe you’re all talking about me behind my back.”

Things spiraled downward from there.  Jack immediately sent an angry email to the other three facilitators, who then called me up, in succession, outraged that I’d interceded with Jack without their agreement. (Huh?  I thought this was what everyone wanted!)

Could this have been handled better?  *Undoubtedly*.  My two mistakes were:
1) Taking an action without double-checking that this was, indeed, the group’s will.

2) Telling Jack that people had been discussing/criticizing him outside of his presence.

Gossip kills trust, pure and simple.  The most successful teams speak directly with colleagues about their lingering issues, using language that opens dialogue rather than closing it.  And the most successful leaders protect their staff from attack, taking responsibility for their decisions rather than pointing fingers.

Things worked themselves out, eventually, but it took a while to regain everyone’s good will.  The first thing I did was apologize to all involved; my next step was to initiate the creation of a company values and ethics statement, co-created by all employees.  It took a lot of time, but was inevitably worth the effort.

It doesn’t change, however, my takeaway from the whole affair. Whether you’re talking about scavenger hunts or project teams, Gossip kills trust! Avoid it like the plague!