A Teamwork Activity Day Event or Training Is Not Going to Fix Your Negative, Toxic Work Environment

Business owners and others in charge of departments at companies often call me looking for a team building activity day or some type of training around customer service or workplace communication.

When I ask more questions to learn how the specific outcomes they hope to achieve from the training event most people grossly over estimated what “training” can be expected to do.

Often there are issues occurring in the work environment that training cannot help and often times will make the problems worse.

If you’ve read my book Overcoming The 7 Deadliest Communication Sins: A New Standard for Workplace Communication you know that many of the issues people want to solve in the trainings and activity events they’re looking for are caused by many facets of interpersonal communication that have built up over a long time of working together.

A work environment problem that manifests in conflict between team members and passive-aggressive behavior is steeped in low trust and low respect between team members, and team leadership. More often than not a training of the type being requested will exacerbate the problem, not resolve it.

The only true way to resolve workplace conflict and passive-aggressive behavior is by addressing the root causes. Identifying the root cause must be the first step.

In any initiative to fix negative, even toxic, workplace cultures we must provide an environment that offers everyone psychological safety that allows them to participate fully. That is impossible to achieve in an open forum team building activity or training in a work environment steeped in low trust and low respect.

As Patrick Lencioni says in his book “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team,” this is “heavy lifting.” It’s hard work that takes time but the rewards are a more positive, more productive, and more healthy work environment.

Here’s another example of what I’m talking about:

In a recent meeting with the vice-president of human resources and  vice-president of operations for a large manufacturing firm, the first half of which we discussed management and leadership training for their middle managers and shop managers.

In the flow of the conversation I used the phrase “toxic” to describe some of the work environments I’ve helped transform.

The vice-president of operations shot back in his next breath, “toxic, hmm, that’s what we’ve got.”

I said, “then, training ain’t gonna fix it.”

They both nodded their heads in agreement.  The conversation took a turn in a new direction.

We began focusing on inviting the president/ceo and other senior leadership team members to discuss addressing issues at the very top of the organization. And, training will not be on the agenda, at least not initially.

It is going to take some significant team development, trust and respect building activities (and I don’t mean a stupid ropes course or trust fall) and consistent accountability to a new approach to leading and communicating in this company.

So, we’ll see how it goes.

But, the next time you think you need “training” for your organization ask these questions –

  • “Why do we want training? 
  • “What is “real problem” are we trying to solve?” (for example: Is it a true skill deficit in a particular area or is it really a behavioral and attitudinal problem we are trying to fix?)

If there is a specific skill deficiency then customized training may be the answer.

If it’s behavioral and/or attitudinal, training is NOT the answer. I suggest looking at more one-on-one private discussions to start to build buy-in and commitment to fixing the root cause and having each team member provide their insights into the cause of the problem(s).

If that’s the case then ask these questions:

  • “What is happening we need to stop happening?
  • “What is NOT happening we need to start happening”
  • “What is the cause?”

If you have identified that you need “training” to solve a behavioral problem, for which you do not know the cause, you will be throwing a lot of time and money at something that will not resolve the issue and most likely will make it even worse.

If this happens, call me and we’ll fix the situation the right way.

4 thoughts on “A Teamwork Activity Day Event or Training Is Not Going to Fix Your Negative, Toxic Work Environment

  1. Steph says:

    Love the new site! What struck a cord with me in this post is the team building and trust that needed to be restored. Sometimes leadership has a hard time acknowledging that it’s more about that than lack of training… not to mention their role in the trust building. Why and what are a great questions for startng point… thank you!

  2. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Sylvie,
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’m pleased you found value in this post and I hope I can continue to offer value to you and others who visit my blog. Your positive reinforcement motivate me to keep looking for ways to add value to the world.

  3. Skip Weisman, Workplace Communication Expert says:

    Steph
    Thanks for stopping by and being moved to comment. Leaders default to “training” because they think its a quick fix and if they throw ‘training’ at the issue they can say they tried to do something about the issue but their people just don’t care enough, and all they want is more money and benefits. It’s a way of shirking responsibility and taking the easy way out in the short term, but its usually wasted money, throwing good money after bad. Instead if they would invest some additional time and energy in really looking at what’s going on in their organization and how they, themselves are leading, it would pay dividends 10-fold over the investment, whereas few training dollars really show a return that can be quantified.

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