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Communication and trust are essential for teams to function properly and achieve their end goals. A frame for communication lines must be laid out in advance as well as a combined contract that defines what the team expects to accomplish as a whole as well as individually. Trust must be built up over time. Each team member must respect each other and follow through with assigned tasks to strengthen trust within the group. If communication and trust break down within a team, the team will not progress and will cease to function.
The Effects of Communication and Trust on Team Dynamics
The American Heritage Dictionary defines dynamics as: Of or relating to energy or to objects in motion, of or relating to the study of dynamics, characterized by continuous change, activity, or progress, Marked by intensity and vigor; forceful. When applying dynamics to a team, the team must constantly be in motion, experiencing continuous change and progress. Intensity and vigor apply to the attitude of the team players. Positive attitudes among team players ultimately result in positive outcomes in team performance. But, how does a team maintain an overall positive attitude and work together like a well oiled machine? They accomplish this through effective communication and build trust among team members.
Communication is a must. Without it, a team will not function. Teams are brought together for various reasons, and must work under different circumstances each time. The Swift Trust Partnership Experiment recommends that a team first develop a contract in which they will abide by. “The Swift Trust Exercise provides students with the opportunity to frame an organizational contract based on perception of the future business partner” (Alder, T. 2005, 717).
There are two types of contracts: Hard contracts and soft contracts. Hard contracts are derived because team members feel the need to stipulate details. This usually occurs when not much knowledge exists about the members involved, and skepticism exists about the outcome of the project. It is normal to have a certain amount of distrust at the beginning of any project.
Trust is something that must be cultivated over time. It is not something that is inherent in the beginning. It is essential that a team builds a framework in which communication will take place. Team members need to be trained how to use this framework and everyone must be held accountable (Waldman, R.
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Soft contracts are used when more information is available at the beginning of the project, if the team members have worked together before, and no serious risks are perceived as preventing the end goal from being reached. This contract, whether hard or soft, will define what the team expects to accomplish. It needs to list the team’s goals, the individual roles of team members and their duties, each team member’s expectations, and provide a framework for communication requirements. It should also define the circumstances as to when new team members can be brought in or when existing team members should be taken out.
The most important aspect of a team contract is that it is a collaborative effort between all team members. Each team member needs to understand and agree upon all terms of the contract. Upper management and outside sources should not be involved or have any persuasive power as to its content.
One thing to consider is that trust and distrust are not opposite ends of the spectrum. They are two unique situations and should be treated as such.
Roles Within A Team
Although a team needs to work together as a unit to accomplish the end goal, a team needs a leader to provide direction. The leader is responsible for making sure the team runs smoothly. They need to brief each team member on the objectives, delegate responsibilities, analyze any potential threats the team might have, establish the communication plan, ensure positive 2-way communication is established during critical situations, and have a back-up plan in case something falls through. Leaders also need to make sure that every team member feels validated and respected. This can be accomplished by listening to their questions, and acknowledging and understanding their challenges. These small tasks help build trust within the team.
Something a leader should avoid when assigning tasks is putting each team member in an assigned box. This brings on a state of mind that the team member is only allowed to do whatever is in their job description and nothing more. The resulting effect is a lack of cooperation between team members and a team that does not run smoothly. “Why should I do that? It’s not my job” is an attitude that is detrimental and needs to be avoided at all costs (O. Harari, 2004).
Not only do individual team members need to be honest with their fellow team members, they need to be honest with themselves. They need to know what they are truly capable of and what their limitations are. This inner honesty will help them know what kind of projects they should realistically take on and when they need to ask for help.
Trust has many definitions, none of which has been universally agreed upon. One thing is clear, trust is multidimensional. It is not psychological. It also needs to be constantly worked on. Trust doesn’t just happen. “High levels of trust between team members will be positively related with attitudinal commitment and negatively related with continuance commitment.” (A. Costa 2003, 610). In other words, when team members trust each other, they want to continue to work together. When distrust is present within a team, team members continue to work together because they have to.
How do you build trust within a team? It is usually the small things that make a big difference. Common courtesies, like listening and validating opinions, returning messages and e-mails can make individuals feel respected and more open to discussing serious issues. It also helps them feel that they have an outlet to turn to when they are having serious issues within the company or with outside sources.
Being true to the team by being sensitive to the information you share to outside sources also helps build trust. Allowing information of an internal conflict to become outside knowledge before the conflict has a chance to resolve is an unwise choice for any team member to make. By so doing, distrust develops.
Distrust can be extremely detrimental to a team. Communication is hindered when team members do not trust each other. When communication ceases, productivity slows, and the team no longer functions as a team. The key is to not allow distrust to overtake a team. Distrust is likely to happen, and must be handled as an obstacle to overcome by the team leader. When distrust issues do arise, they must be addressed in a timely manner, but be given enough time to allow all who are involved to feel that the situation has been resolved so that trust can be re-established.
Having strong communication will help ensure that a team is successful. Trust between team members is essential to keep communication lines open. Each team member has a responsibility to respect and be honest with the entire group. Having a contract in place that defines responsibilities and goals will help clarify goals and expectations which the team has collaborated on together. By so doing, the team as a whole will be able to communicate clearly, productivity will be high, and their ability to reach their end goals is strong.
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