The Role of Employee Complaints in Effective Teambuilding

How to enhance your teambuilding skills in the way you address a complaint from one of your team members.

By Jeffrey Paolano, former Labor Relations Vice President,and Raymond Rarey, Senior Vice President, Human Resources

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.”—Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th President of the United States

Congratulations! You have accepted a position as a first-line supervisor, and all you have to do now is figure out what to do next.

We have written a comprehensive tutorial called “The Role of Employee Complaints in Effective Teambuilding”to assist you in this thought process. If you are in a manufacturing or service environment, you have responsibility for and must be concerned with men (and women), machines, materials, measurements, and methods. If you are in retailing or wholesaling, your concerns will be people, product, pricing, promotion, placement, and processing.

Certainly, there are many issues to consider. However, this tutorial intends only to investigate the topic of people. Our inquiry is limited to how you might enhance your teambuilding skills in the way you address a complaint from one of your team members.

Management Style

In addressing this issue, we first consider your choice of management style. Included is the effect your management style will have on your life outside work and your ambitions for the long term.

The tutorial is sprinkled with quotes from individuals recognized for their achievements such as:

“You never achieve real success unless you like what you are doing”—Dale Carnegie(1888-1965) American writer, lecturer, and developer of famous courses in self-improvement

The tutorial will assist you in:

  • Recognizing your responsibilities
  • Choosing a management style compatible with your personality, thereby reducing work-induced stress
  • Recognizing that life plans rarely are fulfilled and the demands of life are going to change, so it is best to prepare for the unknown
  • As a technical matter, learning to appreciate the differences between a complaint and a grievance

We look into the matter of the characteristics required of your team as a consequence of the type of work it is expected to perform, and we also explore your potential role in determining those characteristics through your leadership by example.

We discuss how you may acquire the habitual behaviors that will help you develop a demeanor that will fortify your role asteam leader. Employees above all desire respect, so we explore how you may conduct yourself to assure you don’t trample on your team members’ self-image. Lastly, we address ensuring you recognize the individualism of your team members and teach you how to approach them with that thought in mind.

Addressing Employee Complaints

We delve into the consideration to be given to team members through active listening. You want to strongly impress upon them your interest in their concerns. Many times, employees will use veiled appeals to convey their complaints to you, so you must train yourself to recognize this communication. We suggest ways to approach employees to make them feel more comfortable and to facilitate the conversation. We address ideas such as making notes as a way to express to employees your attentiveness to their needs.

There are ideas on how to address frivolous complaints, determine whether the matter is within you purview to resolve, and how to proceed without stubbing your toe on your superior’s or colleagues’ interests. We also address how to keep the employee in the loop as you conduct the investigation, how to organize the results of your inquiry, and the best processes for conducting interviews and examinations. Consideration is given to how to approach your superior and those in charge of affected disciplines to obtain the most favorable response to your position. Lastly, we look at identifying what you want to achieve with your response and how to develop it.

When responding to an employee’s complaint, for example, you must assure your response is universally acceptable within the team, is sufficiently concise to ease implementation, and will stand the test of time. Ideally, your response will not create new issues.

Where and when you schedule the response meeting should reinforce in the employee’s mind your attentiveness to his or her concerns. In the response meeting, you should demonstrate your concern for the employee’s well-being and confirm that you value his or her interest in improving the working environment by bringing the matter to your attention. Positively reinforce the employee’s decision to bring the matter to you. The goal is productive improvement of your relationship with the employee and a constructive impact on team coherence.

In our tutorial, we delve into the questions of:

  • Should an employee be allowed to bring others to the response meeting?
  • How should a snag in your presentation be addressed?
  • How to provide an avenue for an employee to save face?

Building the Team

As you build your team, bear in mind that what you do is the primary example for the team. As Lee Iacoccasaid: “The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.” Being cognizant of this relationship allows you to modulate the team’s progress through modification of your own behavior and, thus, avoid the pitfall of getting out too far or too fast in the transformation, thereby frustrating your team members and inviting their rebuff.

As a result, you will have established rapport, gained an allegiance, tapped into the thinking of at least one team member (which might be a bellwether of the thinking of other team members), had a look into specific operations that might have eluded you in your normal activities, gained a perspective of at least one member of your team, and had an opportunity to interact positively with other members of the staff and your superior(s).

Those are good building blocks. Nurture them, refine them, build on them, and add to them. They will stand you in good stead.

You can obtain a copy of the full “The Role of Employee Complaints in Effective Teambuilding” tutorial by e-mailing

Collectively Jeffrey A. Paolano and Raymond J. Rarey have more than 70 years of Human Resources and industrial relations management experience in both union and non-union settings at the plant, division, and corporate levels of several major manufacturing companies in diversified industries including steel, rubber, electronics, heavy-duty trucks, auto parts, sales, warehousing, distribution, and defense. Paolano holds a Baccalaureate degree in Labor Economics and a Masters of Arts degree in Economics from The University of Akron. Rarey received his Baccalaureate degree in Business Administration from Kent State University, and he holds a Masters in Industrial and Labor Relations jointly conferred by Cornell University and Baruch College of the City University of New York.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.