One Small Step for Employee-Management-Community Consensus Building: Affirming the Purpose, Participation and Power of Admin Professionals

One of the challenges for an Organizational Development Consultant is getting management and employees on the same page, if not singing from the same sheet of music. Sometimes you don’t need management to generate static. Status distinctions within the employee ranks may exacerbate in-house tensions. For example, in one government directorate, scientists and IT folks were called “professional” staff while the clerical/administrative personnel were labeled “support” staff. (On a retreat, I quickly changed the nomenclature: all were professional staff; some were scientific, others were administrative.)

When you move beyond exclusionary, “superior-subordinate” or “all or none” thinking and can become thoughtfully inclusive, allowing for both individual difference while still reaffirming a sense of team and community, you are taking a small but meaningful step for trust- and team building. If not always a win-win solution, at least you have discovered or designed a necessary “pass in the impasse.”

Consider this scenario of a government unit with similar status issues and professional community barriers as noted above: As a follow-up to a team building retreat with an admin staff of a federal government division we initiated a once/month meeting with the Assistant Director. The meeting gives the admin group a chance to both get management’s perspective on operational issues as well as to identify issues and articulate concerns close to their heads and hearts. This was an important step as these six ladies believed that management overlooked them and did not seriously listen to issues they had been raising.

An agenda item came up that I would like to spotlight: whether the admin staff needs to attend the weekly “front office” meeting with all division staff. While one or two of the admin people thought there was an occasional nugget from these meetings, all agreed that most of the time the issues are mission technical and don’t relate to the operational interests and needs of the admin team.

As the discussion unfolded we seemed to be moving toward an “all or none” resolution, though we also agreed that anyone wanting to could attend the meeting. I was concerned about the possible message sent or message perceived by the rest of the staff if most admin did not show up to the front office meetings (e.g., reinforcing “professional staff” divisions or that admin was uninterested, feeling unwelcomed, frustrated, etc.) I also wanted admin not to be merely passive observers but to have a task-related presence at these front office gatherings.

The nuanced solution: “How about if admin sent a formal representative to the front office meetings?” And this representative would present during a “Five Minutes with Admin” segment. The representative’s agenda would emerge from a mix of morning huddles and the monthly meeting with the Assistant Director. And the representative would also report back to the admin team relevant ideas and issues generated in the full staff meeting. The solution seemed to accommodate individual flexibility while generating formal admin participation as well as the opportunity for two-way information gathering-sharing. It added meaning and value to admin’s informal collegial meetings. And with the admin rep being filled on a rotational basis, all would have a chance to hang back in the shadows as well as play a more visible, leadership role. (We coined a new title for the representative: Admin Ambassador. You know the ladies loved that one.) Perhaps the best definition of consensus I’ve come across on my consulting travels: “Everyone gives up a little for the greater good, goals and gain of the community.” Words to bridge status and role differences and strengthen a community focus while helping one and all…Practice Safe Stress!

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, “The Stress Doc” ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker and “Motivational Humorist” known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN speaking and workshop programs. In addition, the “Doc” is a team building and organizational development consultant for a variety of govt. agencies, corporations and non-profits. Mark is an Adjunct Professor, No. VA (NOVA) Community College and currently he is leading “Stress, Team Building and Humor” programs for the 13th Expeditionary Support Command and the 15th Sustainment Brigade, Ft. Hood, Texas and the 3rd Chemical Brigade, Fort Leonard Wood, MO. A former Stress and Conflict Consultant for the US Postal Service, the Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his award-winning, USA Today Online “HotSite” – www.stressdoc.com – called a “workplace resource” by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc’s “Practice Safe Stress” programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email [email protected] or call 301-875-2567.

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