Get on the Team!
/ Author: Geoff Dueck Thiessen
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Get on the Team!

By Geoff Dueck Thiessen, Winnipeg Regional Director

People are happier at work when they feel like they’re “on the team.” We all want a meaningful role to play and to be appreciated by the rest of the team for our efforts.

The reality is that in the workplace, many people feel excluded from the team. They don’t feel clear about their role, or appreciated for their contributions. Instead of receiving coaching, they get berated. Instead of high fives and team celebrations, they’re left to themselves. They’re corrected for their mistakes and not given compliments.

At CLAC, we want our members to be included on the team. Our tagline, “better together,” captures what we want for ourselves and our members. 

There isn’t one formula to making this happen. Collective agreements, grievances, joint labour management meetings, good health benefits, training . . . these are helpful tools and they go a long way. But better workplaces? Better lives? We need to go deeper.

Some employers really view their employees as team members. Those employers often recognize the value of CLAC and allow us to give voice to those team members and speak up when people are feeling disengaged. 

Save-On-Foods is like this. They know that when a shopper is greeted by a friendly and engaged team member, they are more likely to fill up their grocery carts and be repeat customers. And they know that a disengaged team member will not greet customers effectively, if at all. They also know how much it costs to replace a team member who quits. They work hard to promote inclusion and a teamwork atmosphere. They understand that keeping their employees happy and engaged truly matters.  

But what about employers who don’t get it? 

I represent two workplaces where the stewards have reached a high state of frustration. We realize that asking management to put their employees “on the team” isn’t working, so we decided to stop focusing on asking for respect and inclusion. Instead, we’ve started to campaign among our membership, calling on them to act like they’re already on the team. 

This is very hard stuff. It takes a great amount of effort for someone who is being bullied to find the strength, courage, and cleverness to defeat the bully, and they usually need help.

That’s where CLAC comes in. We can educate our members on how to be assertive. We can coach them and empower them to solve the problem together. 

Showing people how to act like team members has to be done with the right balance of purpose and care. Earlier this year, I made a presentation about this to a group of 60 members. At the end, there was heavy silence as they digested the array of feelings they were having. It was a sacred moment that I hadn’t anticipated. 

In a subsequent presentation, I made a mistake by underestimating just how hard it is to do what I’m talking about here. Cultural pressures, gender discrimination, lack of power, personal memories of past trauma, real threats from managers . . . there are many obstacles that deter people from acting assertively.

Finally, a short story I find inspiring. A CLAC member who cleans schools in the evenings shared with me about how when she first started her job, the teachers in the school wouldn’t look at her or greet her. So she greeted them, every day. Eventually, the greetings were returned, along with friendship and warmth.

Today, the custodial staff at her school are a valued part of the team, at least in part because this one member pushed past the resistance and acted like she was on the team until one day she was.


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