There is widespread agreement that the art of building effective teams involves being clear about collective and individual objectives. What happens to sustaining and building effective teams in times of anxiety-inducing change when mergers, new roles, new processes and redundancies are in the air? According to Roffey Park leadership consultant Catherine Shepherd, one thing emerges as indispensable: trust.

As a Gestalt practitioner, I think that building and sustaining effective teams are mutually intertwined processes; growth occurs when teams feel sustained. Major change that cannot be avoided is bound to have an impact on the sense of sustenance that nourishes the process of building and growth.

Shepherd cites Roffey Park’s own recent research, which charted the intimate connections between levels of trust and levels of change in organisations. When employees are asked about their attitudes to change, they talk about trust; when asked about trust, they talk about change, superficially suggesting some kind of inverse relation between the two. As change increases, does trust recede?

The answer is far more complicated. In Gestalt terminology, when change is underway, the issue of trust comes out of the “ground” of hitherto taken-for-granted assumptions to become a figure of attention. It becomes more important when it might be threatened or undermined.

The research identifies several key areas that leaders should focus on if they wish to conserve and maintain the trust necessary for team building.

First, lurking undercurrents need to be identified and explored. Bringing in an external consultant might be the wisest option to facilitate this because it can help people feel safe enough to be candid.

Second, genuine care and concern really do matter. If change or even redundancy cannot be avoided, honest concern about employees and empathic listening can make an intolerable situation more than merely bearable.

Being visible also helps. Getting out there and speaking to employees and honestly sharing your feelings about change can be invaluable. However, you should keep a careful eye on the impression you’re giving; no one likes to feel even more frightened by the change, for example.

Employee trust will inevitably ebb and flow during the change process and its approach, but it doesn’t have to wither and perish.

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