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Culture-Maintaining Positive Teams

Coworkers around a table

Management Topic: Culture-Maintaining Positive Teams

Dear Colleagues,

Teams have been operating in new capacities throughout the pandemic and we anticipate additional changes as work units plan for the return to campus. Team dynamics faced new challenges with the abrupt shift to remote work for many, early in the pandemic, and those dynamics will inevitably change again as departments begin to identify what their new normal will look like, be it a hybrid model of both on-site and remote work, alternate work schedules, or teams with individuals with different arrangements based on job duties. Change, unmet expectations, and perceptions of fairness and equity in making these arrangements can cause additional stress on team dynamics. This month, we will focus on identifying team behaviors of concern, managing feelings, building trust amongst teams, and the role emotional intelligence plays in this area.

Identifying Concerning Team Dynamics

As teams return to the office, reactions and experiences will vary, especially as team members learn of their new work arrangements and begin to discuss and compare arrangements with others. Some negative reactions you may witness among individual team members or throughout teams include:

  • Resentment
  • Jealousy
  • Gossip/back-biting
  • Irritation
  • Dissatisfaction/disgruntlement
  • Hostility

These feelings may appear among a whole group or just with one team member but their effects can be damaging to team dynamics and cause obstacles in creating a positive work environment for your team’s creativity and productivity to thrive.


Managing Responses and Reactions

Team members view and approach situations differently based on their own lived experiences. Some may feel resentful they cannot work remotely and others may feel isolated if they cannot return to campus. As management, you must decide the FlexWork model that works best for your operations, clients and customers, and team members. However, it is also important your team members feel heard and that all relevant factors are considered before a decision is made. Having a discussion with each team member about their preferred work arrangement is highly recommended. As outlined within the campus FlexWork Guide for Managers, before approving or denying requests, managers should explain why some revisions may be necessary and “be supportive, and suggest practical alternatives...When reviewing FlexWork Proposals, managers and supervisors must keep equity and consistency in mind. Decisions must follow principles of fairness, and opportunities should be reviewed to assess whether certain job duties can be performed remotely. Similar jobs within a work unit should be treated in a consistent manner.” Keep in mind though that “equality” and “equity” are not the same thing. “Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.” (Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference?, 2020)

As managers and supervisors, you have the capacity to assess when your team is operating at its best or when breakdowns in trust, communication, or collegiality have occurred. If you are unsure and would like to better assess your team’s current state, this test on scaling trust in your team can assist.

Coworkers having a conversation

You need to understand the root cause of the reactions and behaviors you are witnessing. Do staff have health and safety concerns? If so, outline all of the ways the university and your department are working to keep the community safe. The Campus Ramp-Up Planning Guide outlines campus’s health and safety plans, but make sure to note specifics for your department or area. If staff are concerned with team members’ non-compliance with requirements, make sure they are aware of reporting avenues and encourage them to share this information with you immediately. If team members feel it is unfair some received a FlexWork schedule they themselves preferred or requested, be transparent regarding your considerations and decision. However, be mindful not to share confidential information such as medical accommodations.

Where return to work plans have already been solidified and if team members are struggling with the change, we recommend the following:

  • Review last month’s MMT on Having Difficult Conversations. Many of these recommendations will help you with this conversation.
  • If you missed last month’s Administration Leadership Forum, we highly recommend watching Dr. Jorge Cherbosque’s presentation on Emotional Intelligence for the Next Generation. His recommendations will also be helpful in discussing these matters with individuals and your team.
  • Provide a safe space for team members to communicate their feelings about the decision. Acknowledge their feelings without undermining your decision.
  • If team members are comparing their arrangement to others, explain how you came to the decision you made for their specific arrangement. Be open about obvious differences between their arrangement and others, without compromising confidentiality.
  • Be willing to reconsider the decision if valid considerations were raised.
  • Set expectations for work behaviors with individuals and as a team. Recognize any continuing challenges but emphasize that improvement will only happen with everyone’s commitment.

Building Trust

To reiterate key concepts outlined within the FlexWork guide, “Managers and supervisors should prioritize consistent communication and regular meetings with their teams to build staff engagement and strengthen connections between team members. Managers and supervisors should also remember to schedule virtual and/or in-person time for team building and bonding.”

Six qualities are needed for trust to exist within a team. These six traits are reliability/dependability, transparency, competency, sincerity/authenticity/congruency, openness/vulnerability and fairness. “To build or rebuild trust, a leader must open the conversation about the degree to which each of the six qualities are present and be open to hearing what others feel, observe and need. Of course, the leader will need some trust in the others in order to begin this process.” (The Essential Importance of Trust: How to Build It or Restore It, 2018) Given the changes caused by department’s return to work, fairness may be a key area that needs specific attention.

Reinforce the importance of communication; provide a space or time for staff to engage in small talk, starting with low risk dialogue such as icebreakers to promote reconnection. For more information, refer back to April’s MMT on Maintaining Communication.

If you feel your team would benefit from a more customized team-building session, please reach out to OED’s Gerrie Zvara at, Rejeana Mathis in CHR’s Learning & Organizational Development team at, or the Staff & Faculty Counseling Center’s Jorge Cherbosque at

Helpful Tools to Learn More About This Topic:

Scenario for Discussion:

A team member working on-site three days per week and two days remotely has made snide remarks in the past two team meetings towards another team member working fully remotely. The fully remote team member has remained quiet but you worry about the behavior’s impact and want to discuss this issue directly with the team member.

  • What key talking points do you want to discuss with the team member making these comments?
  • Whom else should you discuss these comments?
  • What resources can you offer the team member who made these comments, the team member receiving these comments, and your team as a whole?

Recommendations for how to address June’s Scenario can be found here.

Interested in reviewing prior months’ topics? Visit our Monthly Management Tips website.

Stay Safe!

Leadership 2029

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