For those of you who have followed our blogs you know we at CALMC are strong advocates for worker voice through labor-management partnerships. We have worked with many groups and have seen the benefits of partnerships but being partners and having that voice can also mean changes for either side and that can be an extremely difficult.
Recently we have been working with some groups and it’s been an interesting and different experience with them. The ability of the groups to work together has changed from previous years and it’s baffling.
As with some of the groups we have trained, and this includes the most recent groups, they come out of training ready to go and eager to get started. It’s not too unusual for groups to identify some fairly big projects to start with once they get done with training. Even though we tell groups to start small so they can adapt and learn their new skills as they go along, some decide to work on more difficult projects. Groups may have wanted the training to help with those particular big projects and with relationship building so they can work better together on future problems and projects. All of that is fine, but the difference lately has been the ability to understand, or maybe the lack of, as to what it really means to work together.
As we’ve blogged before, working together as a team or building a partnership doesn’t happen automatically like a lot of people think. Training doesn’t automatically make a team or create labor and management partnerships. That all is explained before and during the training. There’s no magic wand available for instantaneous success. It may take more work or it may take a longer time for some groups. That can depend on the workplace culture or relationships within the workplace. It does take ongoing work and patience for any group, not stops and starts. The inability to want to spend time working through issues seems to be more common and that is different. Holding people or a particular side accountable and taking positions despite being told it won’t get you anywhere seems to be the preferred style.
Partnerships and teams are not about holding individuals or a side accountable. While some people may want training labor-management cooperation or team training to make people behave in a preferable manner, that’s not what it’s about and should that be the case in any organization or workplace, no group, organization or workplace will ever be able to achieve success through any group process. In fact, should it be tried again in the future for the right reasons, it will be much more difficult because trust was broken.
This is about working together and not about digging in or taking positions. Position taking harms everyone, the organization and the workplace because it’s a lose-lose situation where nobody wins. Working together means coming up with new ideas to resolve issues. It’s also about gathering information that may be new to everyone. It also means being in support of a decision that may not be popular but is necessary at the particular time. It also could be about giving something up. Whatever that decision ends up being it is NOT cut in stone. Anything can be and should be revisited at some point in the future. We tell this to groups.
Working together is about everyone stepping up to the plate to share in the responsibility of completing the problem or project everyone agreed to do. It’s not about demanding the other side do it or sticking it to the other side to do better. It means everyone shares in the work to maintain the committee and any project work. It’s also about sharing information and ideas. It’s a great time to show off everyone’s expertise they bring to the group. This is when partnerships and teams are formed. It demonstrates the dedication and commitment of each person and each side. It’s the walk the talk moment and that builds trust and develops a stronger relationship. The stronger the relationship the more that can be accomplished. It’s the endurance test. It will continue the partnership into the future.
Everyone in the workplace has a job to do. Committee work is additional work. We all have to maintain a work-life balance. We get that and we encourage groups to pace themselves but if work on a committee or team or through labor-management partnership ceases or is not done to the best of everyone’s ability, there will be no partnerships or teams or committees. The inability to assume the responsibility for actions to maintain worker voice disappears and so does worker voice.
What’s so striking and quite baffling is we’re seeing more groups react this way. We spend time laying out expectations to groups before the training to make sure they are ready for it. We talk about it during the training and ask at the end if it’s still what they want. We stay with them to help them with the skills to real life. But why they want to give up worker voice in the end is unclear. Some don’t realize the work and time that is involved which could be part of it. It could be a lack of understanding. It could be we live in an even more instantaneous world than before and too much patience is needed for relationship building. Maybe it’s because of the way society is at the moment or because there’s new leaders and they need time to develop skills. Whatever the reason, existing leaders must be ready to stress the importance of maintaining worker voice because once it’s gone it’s hard to get it back.