Fixer: How should I tackle a hostile HR team?

I would like to build trust with colleagues to enable a better working relationship

I’m an L&D manager for around 250 engineers, as well as a union rep. I’m also a Chartered Member of the CIPD: something I’ve studied and worked for to be the best I can be for both my day job and my union members. Although I don’t work directly in HR, many of my interactions are with the HR team. However, the majority of the team treat me with mistrust. I have a strong relationship with a small number of HR colleagues and have mentored a few, but how can I address the rest? I’m struggling with the hostility.

A good trade union rep is worth their weight in gold and can aid effective relationships, as well as hold poor management practices to account. We can’t tell you the number of issues we’ve been able to resolve informally by working with unions to reach a resolution that everyone is happy with.

In terms of changing perceptions, we’d start by trying to understand why the team is so hostile. Is it about the union role you play? Have they had negative interactions with the union in the past or maybe they don’t fully understand the role and the value it can add? Is there any perceived overlap between the L&D role you play and what they do? Can you work together on some projects? This could have a dual benefit of helping to build or improve the working relationship as well as utilising both sets of skills.

Could the members of the HR team who you get on well with give you some insights? Ask them about opportunities where you could work together across the two teams to achieve the same organisational goal. You could think about giving the whole team an insight on the role of a rep, or a ‘day in the life’ of your L&D role? If there is a perceived overlap between roles, more may need to be done to give everyone greater role clarity. Once you have identified projects you could work on together, you and some of your HR ‘allies’ could bring these up in the session.

By doing this together, it helps the rest of the team to see that you are all working towards the same outcomes.

Husband and wife team Rob and Nicci Birley have run their own full service HR consultancy, Cornerstone Resources, since late 2017, partnering with small businesses and charities throughout the UK. Prior to this, they both spent more than 20 years each working in a range of specialist and generalist HR roles across a range of sectors.

Nicci specialises in management coaching, mentoring, recruitment, change management and improving organisational performance. Rob specialises in complex employee issues and salaries, pensions and benefits.

Their replies are written in a personal capacity and do not reflect the views of People Management or the CIPD, nor are they a substitute for professional legal advice. Not all queries submitted can be answered, and personal replies are not possible. To pose an anonymous query, visit