Wednesday, April 1, 2009 by Dave Blum

Some years ago, I was leading one of my corporate team building activities in perhaps my favorite location for scavenger huntsNew Orleans.  One of the participants, Patty, was struggling with the scavenger hunt list — not because the treasure hunt clues were too hard, but more because of a physical ailment.  Apparently she had recently had back surgery, making fast walking exceedingly uncomfortable for her.

By contrast, her boss (and fellow teammate) — Tim — was quite fit and *very* competitive.  The further behind Patty fell, the more Tim yelled, “Come on, come on.  Let’s move it!”  From Tim’s perspective, the treasure hunt was not about generating team building ideas; it was all about giving a WINNING EFFORT.

By lunchtime, the situation had really come to a head.  Tim was fed up with Patty’s lolly-gagging and lack of urgency; Patty was furious that Tim didn’t seem to care about her physical discomfort.  We’re talking a major case of diminished trust — from both sides.  What was going on here?

Two things:

  1. Tim believed that Patty was demonstrating LACK OF CONSISTENT EFFORT.
  2. Patty believed Tim was exhibiting LACK OF EMPATHY.

In team building exercises like this, the situation is fairly-easily remedied.  As the facilitator, you sit people down, have them share their perception of the problem, and ask them to come up with a mutually-acceptable solution.  In the workplace, however, there’s rarely a mediator handy.  If uninterrupted, the emotions fester…people seek comfort through gossiping (yesterday’s blog) to their co-workers, and trust is further eroded.

Tim and Patty both believed in the value of team trust — they simply had conflicting needs in the moment.

CONSISTENT  EFFORT is a big part of trust.  You have to know that you’re teammates will “show up” everyday and at least try to bring their “A” game.

DEMONSTRATIONS OF EMPATHY are equally important.  You need to trust that your co-workers care about you as a person and, in times of personal difficulty, will “feel your pain.”

Patty and Tim eventually buried the hatchet (not literally, of course!). At lunch they brainstormed scavenger hunt ideas and decided to rent a horse-drawn buggy for the duration of the activity.  They could still “compete” without further risk of injury.  It was a pretty elegant solution, I thought.  One that will build trust for the future.