Labor-management cooperation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not an on-off type of thing. As with any relationship, it takes patience. It requires some work and time to build. On the other hand, it doesn’t take long for relationships to deteriorate and that can be for a variety of reasons such as a clash between existing personnel and new personnel or new leadership.
Working with other people is not as easy as some people think. When a new member with a traditional approach to labor-management relations joins a cooperative labor-management committee, it’s going to be extremely difficult for that person to adapt. For anybody, in any relationship or setting, it’s not necessarily easy adapting or changing style especially if it means moving from a more autocratic style to a more supportive, collaborative style. It’s going from one end of the spectrum to the other. New people coming into an existing group or committee are basically strangers. Depending on the style, if it’s an approach that’s different from what people are accustomed to it can be met with either skepticism or resentment particularly if it’s in a well-established environment.
This is not to say it’s not important to welcome new members who may bring new ideas and contributions. Workplaces or groups need new ideas; otherwise, they risk collapse. What is important is preparing people before they attend their first meeting or begin their first day. They need to feel welcomed and they need to be provided with some guidance that helps to explain the type of culture, expectations and the work that is being done and has been done. Easing people into a new environment through an orientation process can help them understand and adapt to their new surroundings.
Existing members need to have patience with new people. New people who are excited and enthusiastic about being part of the group may be eager to get started and want to initiate new ideas before learning more about the group. New leaders who are ambitious may also come in with their own agenda and implement it without consideration of existing culture and people. When any new person or leader creates immediate change without taking time to learn about the organization or committee and its people, that change more than likely is doomed to failure. It takes patience on the part of the new person or leader and it takes patience on existing staff or members.
It’s a dance both new and existing people must do. New people need to be patient, observe, listen to those who have already provided their “blood, sweat and tears.” Patience will help those who are new become part of the group. At the same time, those existing people need to bring the new people into the process and ask “newbies” for ideas to help bring them along and encourage some participation. Getting their participation in discussion or projects is how we learn about each other and can help everyone be more comfortable and acquainted with each other.
We’ve known groups and workplaces that have done some amazing things but because of personnel changes, either from someone leaving or coming in, some groups or workplaces saw deterioration in relationships and output. This is why it is so important for leaders or anybody coming in to new surroundings to learn more about the organization, the group or individual people first before imposing themselves and their ideas. It’s learning about what the workplace or group has accomplished. It’s discovering what the capabilities are and how ready people are to change. Some may be excited and ready while others may need more time but it’s determining who that is and why before making immediate change. If it’s in a labor-management setting, it doesn’t matter whether the leadership change is labor or management. We’ve seen it from both sides go either way.
On the other hand, we’ve also seen new leadership come in and develop or maintain positive relationships and encourage collaborative efforts. They did that by learning and listening to people or observing. They took time and were patient before making any adjustments or modifications. They demonstrated support and they earned trust and respect simply by taking the time to learn and understand.
It’s also to say stumbling blocks don’t happen for those who do the right thing in the beginning. Mistakes happen. It’s how those mistakes are managed is key. The first time a disagreement occurs is not the time to stop. It’s not about conflict being wrong. It’s all about management of it. That can mean some work and patience. This is a time when relationships can be strengthened.
During committee effectiveness training, we tell groups to make sure to orient new members. Some develop an orientation as something to work on following the training. Others wait until a new person comes onto the committee and then it happens! The new person coming in has a difficult time adapting and committee members are caught off guard having difficulty too. One committee lost the new person after one meeting. Another committee decided after two or three meetings they couldn’t continue to meet because of the conflict occurring. The committee who lost the new member after one meeting may have lost a very valuable committee member. The committee that stopped meeting may have lost out in building the ability of that committee.
We live in an instantaneous world where immediate gratification occurs. We’ve grown up from the television episodes that solved life problems in an evening to technology that can provide us with instant results. That doesn’t mean though all of life is like that and it’s so important for us to remember the value of learning to work together. We need to spend time and learn about each other and that requires patience.