Team-building and workplace communications training is all the rage. Because part of my work is training, it’s not unusual for me to receive such inquiries. And it turns out that sometimes, team-building is just a form of conflict avoidance.
My first question when I get these calls is, “Why do you want your workplace team to have communications training (or team-building)?” When we drill down to what led to the call, much of the time it turns out I’m being approached because there’s a conflict. In those instances, the quest for training or team-building is a round-about way to help the team navigate a complex dispute or state of conflict.
There’s absolutely a place for proactive employee learning and the strengthening of team dynamics, of course. That’s why training work is a beloved part of my mix of services to organizations. Training-as-avoidance, though, is rife with the potential for mixed success (at best) because:
- Team members often know why they’re really there and feel resistant toward being trained in lieu of real dialogue. The conflict remains the snake under the rug.
- Effective conflict resolution and dialogue-building doesn’t automatically happen just by giving people new tools and expecting them to use the tools artfully and immediately.
- The manager, supervisor or leader is often not even part of the training or team-building. So a piece of the puzzle–and often a critical one–is missing.
- Sometimes, the conflict plays itself out in the training or team-building, leaving the trainer to deal with the problem while also charged with somehow getting through an agreed-upon curriculum.
Next time you’re faced with a problem in your workplace team, before picking up the phone to call a trainer or team-building consultant, take a quiet moment and answer these questions first:
- Are you hoping the team-building will somehow implicitly encourage folks to deal with their differences? If so, why do you believe that’s a stronger choice than dealing directly with the problem?
- Are you personally uncomfortable with confronting and are using team-building training to avoid having to deal with a conflict in your workplace team? If so, are you sure it’s not in your own and your team’s best interests to strengthen your conflict engagement abilities?
- Is your workplace culture generally conflict avoidant? If so, is this a cultural norm that makes for a strong organizational future?
- Are you hoping team-building training will cause the conflict to come up “by surprise” so it can be dealt with by someone else? If so, is the trainer or consultant you’re hiring fully equipped to navigate these troubled waters successfully?
- Are you using team-building training to show the “bad team players” how “good team players” act, hoping that they’ll miraculously change their ways? If so, are you aware that most behavior change does not occur after someone just learns about an alternative behavior?