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As a New Supervisor, How do I Build Rapport with the Informal Group with in the Department?

Even where teamwork is pervasive, informal work groups can survive. Their existence can make it harder for you to build the trust and openness that is a part of teamwork. You can ignore the existence of the informal group, but that will only make the role of leader of the group a more difficult task, with the informal group intervening each and every step of the way.

The answer for you, as a manager, is to build rapport with the leader of the informal work group. Within an informal work group, there are usually one or more members who have earned the respect of the other employees and are viewed by the other group members as a leader. By virtue of an informal leader’s special role and status, he or she is in a position to "make things happen" or, conversely, "not happen." But this person also is in the position to help you become accepted and established as the formal group leader.

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How do you identify the leader of the informal group? Observe the interactions of the group. Who tends to speak for the other members? Which group member do the other employees seek out when they need advice or assistance?

Once you have identified the informal group leader, you must initiate and nurture a positive working relationship with that person. Ask for help and assistance from the informal leader. This doesn’t mean you have to seek his or her advice every time you make a decision. Doing so would, in fact, make you appear weak and ineffective to the other employees. A more realistic approach is to engage the informal leader on matters that personally concern group members. This does not mean that the informal leader should be given the final say on all decisions—it means simply that input should be asked of the informal leader.

Over time, the instances in which you must consult with the informal leader are likely to decline. Over time, you will gain the credibility you need with members of the group.