Whether burned by the
recent scandals or just involved in a merger or reduction in force, we still have employees and the
organization as a whole hurting during this turbulent transition. So strategies and steps for
reorganizational survival are critical if productivity, coordination and morale are to eventually
rebound. Part I of this series will focus on five systemic and individual reorganizational
survival elements -- from the realities of downsizing to the strategic use of Employee Assistance
Programs and OD Consultants. Part II focuses on one of the most important survival structures
for repairing the doubt and disconnect between individual and organization, between employees and
management -- the work team. The article lists five strategies that illuminate how the team
can become the nucleus for grieving and healing and the rebuilding of trust.
Despite an opening
rant on scandalous or shadowy corporate operations, the Stress Doc cautions not to forget the
survivors of the streamlinings and mergers. Part I of this two-part series focuses on five
micro and macro reorganizational strategies.
Macro and Micro Strategies for Post-Enron Reorganization
A Stress Doc Survival Guide: Part I
parade of corporate scandals increasingly lengthens, and the numbers on the sidelines waving bye to
their stock options, 401Ks, savings and livelihoods increases, let's try a positive spin.
Perhaps these CEOs were motivated less by criminal greed and more for the common good. It's
well known that Americans have a decided problem with obesity. Despite all the downsizing and
consolidating, rightsizing and frightsizing of the past and present, maybe the troops were still not
sufficiently "lean-and-mean." Well Enron and Arthur, World.com and Martha
you. With our wallets shrunk, if not our waistlines, I believe many of us now are finally
And whatever the economic context for this corporate
crisis -- whether dimensions global or criminal, irrational exuberance of investors or plain
mismanagement of decision-makers -- simply ranting about corporate execs as a solution only goes so
far. (Though let's not minimize the pleasure and, at least, short-term stress relief from
skewering criminally greedy, arrogant and hyperinflated egos.) Whether involved in a merger or
reduction in force we still have employees and the organization as a whole in serious need of
assistance during this turbulent transition. So strategies and steps for reorganizational
survival are critical if productivity, coordination and morale are to eventually rebound. And
one of the most important survival structures for repairing the doubt and disconnect between
individual and organization, between employees and management is the work team.
Part I of
this series will focus on five systemic and individual survival elements. While more oversight
in the corporate boardroom is needed, for example, some advocate making sure the CEO is not the
Chairman of the Board, and that the latter have genuine scrutiny over the former, Part II focuses
more on the relationship between top management, supervisors and employees. The article lists
five strategies that illuminate how the team can become the nucleus for grieving and healing and the
rebuilding of trust by: a) recognizing the loss of key personnel and integrating new team
players, practices, emotional processing, etc., b) developing a more inclusive team decision-making
process, c) coordinating new or modified working relationships in teams and departments and d) and
interconnecting departments and divisions throughout the organization so all have a better sense of
and commitment to the newly evolving big picture.
System-Element Survival Strategies
begin with five macro-micro problem setting and strategies; some begin in anticipation (or in
denial) of an impending restructuring:
1. Recognizing Reorganizational Uncertainty.
With an organizational climate of mistrust, it may be difficult for all the worker munchkins and
low- and mid-level managers at OZ Corp. to know what degree of control the highest execs, like the
Wizard, actually have and what's just reorganizational smoke and mirrors. Based on consulting
experience, I'm aware of so many external factors, for example, Congress for federal agencies, IT
meltdowns and the loss of the tax revenue base for state governments, or globalization issues for
corporations, etc., that cloud the reorganizational picture of who's the real captain of the company
ship when navigating such turbulent waters.
In this amorphous, uncertain and doubting
environment, some employees don't want to focus on precarious possibilities; they shut down critical
thinking or, even, push themselves to exhaustion. They work harder and harder to prove their
"essential" status. Others, feeling like "pawns" try to battle their
anxiety and sense of helplessness while establishing some control by cranking up the old mill.
Not surprisingly, in this shadowy climate, with the fear of losing jobs or work hours, the rumor
mill often goes into overtime.
Those at the top often make two mistakes, one an error of
omission, the other of commission. First, management often does not institute workshops on
loss and change that would formally allow employees and supervisors to vent about and better grapple
with current conditions. The second error, though not always pre-meditated, is passing along
information not grounded in first-hand observation or fact. While this sharing is meant to be
reassuring (not simply for defusing anger toward management; let's not be cynical) or at least to
help other's see the glass as half empty and half full, such information only fuels
rumor-mongering. This is akin to a visually ambiguous projection test triggering multiple
interpretations by viewers. Also, some staff may think that by sharing such fanciful
information, management takes employees for fools.
What is clear is that these mistakes and
missed opportunities can ravage long-term trust and loyalty. When it comes to transmission,
better for key decision-makers and information gatekeepers to share less but more substantive data.
This directive holds even if the only honest and affirmative statement is, "At this time, I
don't know what's going on or what this really means." Truth in reorganizing should not
be as dubious as truth in advertising!
2. Being Down and (Breaking) Out.
In the early '90s restructuring rumors were flying at the US Postal Service, especially at
headquarters and nearby facilities in the Metro-DC area. Still the prevailing attitude was:
"We are always going through changes (in operation. No big deal." Alas, what
was not foreseen was that Carvin Marvin Runyon was brought in wielding a decidedly "cutting
edge" Postmaster General axe. Nationwide, within a year, troop size was reduced by
Two categories of employees seemed to survive best the tumultuous transition:
kick-started entrepreneur. I recall one employee declaring he could no longer put all his
financial and career security eggs in the postal basket. He had been contemplating starting
his own seafood business for years, while doing nothing tangible. Now he was definitely pissed
and, perhaps, soon to be RIFfed Off (RIF = Reduction In Force). While not planning to leave
the USPS presently, the downsizing was a "kick in the butt" to disprove that his
entrepreneurial vision was not just a hallucination.
b) the back to schooler.
Another group of folks who saw the opportunity in problems rather than a problem of reduced
opportunity were those who decided to go outside for schooling or for additional in-house training.
These steps would make them more marketable, provide more flexibility for landing on their feet when
the downsizing dust settled
whether inside or out of the Postal Service. (As an aside, while
writing the first draft of this article at Teaism, my tea house sanctuary, a fellow at the next
table mentioned that in a company downsizing, one person wrangled a leave of absence to work on a
novel. In general, I wouldn't count on this option.)
3. Setting Boundaries.
For the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), already beset by multiple downsizings in the last few
years, post-9/11 has meant you "do even more with less." During a recent Practice
Safe Stress Program with the DIA, I was emphasizing the importance of "N & N" - the
ability to say "NO" and to "Negotiate" - in light of how "burnout is less a
sign of failure and more that we give ourselves away." A mature woman interrupts,
challenging my philosophy: "My boss doesn't want to discuss priorities and time factors;
he just wants it when he wants it!" The woman briefly listed various ways she's tried to
reason with or please her supervisor
Intently outlining the burnout
stages, I was taken aback by her mid-stage declaration. Suddenly, out of the murmuring void, a
voice of clarity. A woman, perhaps in her 50s, with years at the agency, said, "I used to
have this problem, trying to please my boss; staying till seven or eight almost every night.
Eventually, I started getting sick." This wakeup call led to: a) pushing aside her
reservations about standing up to authority and b) a serious "N & N" with her
supervisor. The result: more control of her work schedule, less stress and improved
health, not to mention greater confidence and self-esteem. I affirmed the survival wisdom.
The extra-ordinary (occasionally staying till eight or coming in on a weekend, unless you choose to
do so more frequently) must not become the ordinary (or routinely expected).
Seeking Outside Help. If that problematic boss won't listen to reason, think outside the
one-on-one or department box:
a) EAP as Employee Ally. Talk to an Employee
Assistance Program counselor or seek private counseling or coaching. The EAP option has
several advantages: 1) with your permission, an EAP counselor can speak to your supervisor.
This counselor can also facilitate conflict mediation between the antagonistic parties, 2) if
discovering that you are not the only disaffected team member, the counselor can suggest a team
meeting with the supervisor, with or without an EAP presence. (Several employees from a team
or department using EAP services will eventually get management's attention, especially when going
on company time.) If the level of trust and degree of openness between employees and a
supervisor is compromised, outside facilitation is needed.
b) Call on OD Consultant.
Sometimes Human Resources or, even, the EAP (often for confidentiality reasons) will recommend an
outside consultant/facilitator. Another consideration is having an "objective" third
party with no employment ties to the organization, that is, not simply a (perceived) management
mouthpiece. Separate identity and sense of integrity are vital in this intervention role.
(The Stress Doc is tested, rested and ready to roll. His motto: "Have Stress?
Will Travel: A Smart Mouth for Hire!")
c) EAP/Consultant as Supervisor Ally.
Finally, supervisors need to use the EAP not simply as a referral option for troubled or troublesome
individuals. The best supervisors are those who seek out the EAP Counselor (or an EAP- or
HR-referred consultant) for approaches in handling a difficult employee or complex team issue.
The worst response by a supervisor is denying or downplaying the adverse effects of a slacker on his
or her colleagues. Simply encouraging or expecting others to ignore a "stress
carrier" heightens team members' anger and anxiety. ("Will this carrier explode or
implode? Will I be hurt by the fallout?" Will a borderline employee have the chance
to pull a knife on a new supervisor partly because the supervisor's boss downplayed the violence
potential of the employee?) Now both dysfunctional employee and dysfunctional supervisor
become a tumor, inevitably eroding morale and productivity of the unit.
the Way of the Acronyms. Consider these two acronyms to bolster survival capacity during
these trying transitional times:
a) Balancing The Triple "A". To affirm an
employee's sense of professionalism and sense of responsibility, blend "The Triple 'A':
Authority, Autonomy and Accountability." Management must recognize and support an
employee's utilization of skills and knowledge, and the desire to have input in relevant
decision-making ("Authority"). Workers also want some control of their turf, time
frames, tools and operating procedures ("Autonomy"). At the same time, employees
must accept the objective and timely review of their work performance. Alas, with all the
"Accountability" scandals at the top, I wonder if employees, in noticeable numbers, will
start challenging a manager's right to one-dimensionally grade their work quality and quantity.
Investing in Organizational IRAs. When people are chronically doing more with less,
don't assume they will be (or should be) grateful just having a job in a tight economy. A
management team that's concerned about motivation and loyalty or, at least, about the longevity of
workplace survivors, makes sure people can earn those IRAs: Incentives, Recognition &
Rewards and Advancement Opportunities, including opportunity for needed and desired training.
I has identified five macro-micro, organizational-individual strategies and structures for broadly
managing the shock and subsequent fallout of a disruptive reorganization. These are: 1)
Accepting Reorganizational Uncertainty, 2) Being Down and (Breaking) Out, 3) Setting Boundaries, 4)
Seeking Outside Help and 5) Following the Way of the Acronyms. Part II will enumerate five
specific team interventions for rebuilding and bonding within the team or departments and for
subsystems across the organization as a whole. Hopefully, Parts I and II will heal wounds and
regenerate individual, team and organizational energy and spirit while enabling all to
Building on the broad
reorganizational strategies as outlined in Part I, the final segment examines five strategies for
the work team as nucleus for grappling positively with disruptive change, a setting for grieving and
healing and for the rebuilding of trust and productivity.
Building Strategies for Post-Enron Reorganization
A Stress Doc Survival Guide: Part II
of this series (SD News: JUL02) focused on five systemic structural and individual
intervention elements for surviving an uncertain reorganization or downsizing. Part II focuses
on the relationship between top management, supervisors and employees as well as departments or
branches. The article lists five strategies that illuminate how the team can become the
nucleus for grieving and healing and the rebuilding of trust by: a) recognizing the loss of
key personnel and integrating new team players, practices, emotional processing, etc., b) developing
a more inclusive team decision-making process, c) coordinating new or modified working relationships
in teams and departments and d) and interconnecting departments and divisions throughout the
organization so all have a better sense of and commitment to the newly evolving big picture.
Team Meeting Paradigm Shift. Transforming a typical supervisor-driven team meeting into a
gradual team building process doesn't require the group going on some touchy-feely retreat or
participating in some formulaic or chaotic (that is, leaderless) TQM training program. With a
little advanced coaching and group training along with some operational shifts, a team can become a
catalyst for improved coordination, morale and productivity. Consider these hands on
a) Staff Facilitation -- have staff members replace the supervisor as meeting
facilitator every 4-8 weeks (assuming the team meets once or twice/week).
b) Two Hats
Phenomenon - another shift involving both style and substance is having the supervisor or
department head wear two hats: as much as possible, in the meeting this individual is team player
first and management representative second. Surely, letting up on the authority reins may be a
challenge for some managers. However, this shift can be initially uncomfortable for other team
members as well. Employees who are used to deferring to authority or who don't want to risk
being open with ideas and beliefs will have a steeper learning curve. Also, across the
organizational hierarchy, there are individuals reluctant to assume responsibility for making
decisions and being held responsible for outcomes. Such a perceptual and procedural shift
requires trust and, like the phenomenon of trust, will evolve or erode over time.
c) Try a
Controlled and Safe Experiment -- when contemplating innovation, establishing a time-limited
pilot project often allows various parties, especially the authority figures, i.e., supervisors,
managers, division directors, etc., a sense of some control with an uncertain change process.
useful safety feature is having a team-building consultant be a facilitator/role model for the first
two or three "participatory" meetings. I recall helping an IT team at the Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) with this process. Initially, the supervisor and team members were
overly focused on my direction (and, perhaps, my approval). The analogy used was trying to
teach them to ride a two-wheeler. At first, they didn't want me to let go of the bike seat.
In fact, I wound up playfully hiding under the conference table so that the participants could not
make eye contact with me, only surfacing if I thought they were wildly off course. Gradually,
and more steadily, the group process began to cruise, this time hardly noticing my presence when I
2. Build In a Wavelength Segment. In a
"lean-and-MEAN" climate, not surprisingly, most meetings -- from team and department to
branch and division -- are short fused if not "T & T" -- "Time and
Task"-driven. So while the above recommendations open up the process, the content is
often still exclusively focused on goals and objectives, timelines and deadlines and outcomes and
return on investment issues. Which makes sense; there's a business or organization to run.
My recommendation calls for carving out ten or fifteen minutes at the end of the meeting - the
"Wavelength Segment." A group member comfortable with group process initially
facilitates the meeting. Then, as noted above, as experience and trust builds the role of
facilitator can be rotated.
Three purposes of the "Wavelength" are:
Check - this closing segment focuses on how members are relating with each other; it considers
any barriers to communication and cooperation bypassed in the "T n T" section of the
meeting. Group members are encouraged to vent appropriately frustrations related both to team
operations and between the team/department and the larger organizational environment, e.g., other
departments, executive boards, etc. Whenever possible, the manager in tandem with team reps
should push up the organizational ladder issues generated.
b) Peer Recognition - in
addition, "the wavelength" is also a time and place for recognizing individual and group
efforts that have heightened morale and/or productivity.
c) Restore Trust - finally,
perhaps most important, the wavelength is designed to restore trust, especially between a supervisor
or manager and team members. Based on my broad organizational experience there is often a fear
of speaking up (the chain of command). This fear is fueled by the prospect of being judged
negatively, being retaliated against in a performance evaluation or blocked from fulfilling one's
career path. Such restricted, if not repressive, environment does as much to stifle morale and
induce burnout while undermining initiative and innovation as any other toxic elements or hazardous
3. Plan Informal Gatherings. In a "do more with
less" environment, some organizations practically dispense with meetings; others have employees
feeling "meetinged to death." Either extreme is self-defeating in terms of optimal
team coordination and individual productivity. Consider these alternatives:
Huddle - briefly get as many team members together in the morning or just before the shift
starts. Identify any looming surprises or crises and areas of unfinished business, or whether
a team member may need extra support or backup coverage. This is a 5-10 minute "heads
up," "all on the same page" gathering. And if you add some humor -- "joke
of the morning" -- it can get the team off to a lively and cohesive start.
Lunch - each Friday, one federal government branch would have lunch together. Especially
if employee hours are staggered, having more than one opportunity to gather informally makes sense.
For other units, Friday afternoon pizza parties serve a similar function - informal "food for
thought" and laughs.
c) Chief's Cookout - twice a year the above head of the
aforementioned branch, invited team members to her house for a half-day "visionary"
cookout. (The food was real.) This mini-retreat setting helped the group maintain the
currency of their branch vision while creatively massaging vital "big picture" goals and
4. Regular Systemic Parts-Whole Integration. At some regular
interval the teams and/or departments of the division, center or entire organization need to
congregate. The purposes include:
a) Installing Windows In the Silos - management
sharing "big picture" information, to help employees and units see their give-and-take
connection or disconnection with the whole, including the larger environment, e.g., a National
Institutes of Health (NIH) center having problems getting backing for grants approval at the
Institute Director level.
b) Interdepartmental Clarification and Collaboration - allow
teams and departments to clarify roles and responsibilities in areas of overlap, identify potential
joint venture areas, and announce hot projects that may have larger appeal or impact thereby
motivating interdepartmental collaboration. And, of course, this venue will broadcast
inter-team coordination successes.
c) Matrix Teaming - from parts to whole, there must not
simply be top-down information flow unless in a state of urgency. (Remember, the urgent
must get done now, the important is negotiated and prioritized.) If time constraints or
meeting size prove unwieldy, then a matrix team comprised of a small sample of department managers,
supervisors and employees across varying units should convene for task and process problem
solving as outlined in the above "Wavelength Segment."
5. Autonomy and
Collaboration Among the Chiefs. Competing perspectives, if not conflict, among top
management or between the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors is to be expected.
Actually, it's probably needed to avoid the greed and groupthink that has been fostering
"irrationally exuberant," deceptive and criminal actions.
Too often, however,
Executives deny or cover-up their own and/or colleagues' performance inadequacies; or long-standing
personality conflicts between some of "The Big Five" (as I dubbed a federal agency Center
Director, her Deputy and the three Branch Managers) lead to communicational and problem solving
inertia. Now the status quo is triumphant. No one risks the conflict necessary to change
and rejuvenate a tired and outmoded operating system or leadership.
Of course, when the Board
of Directors is basically a rubber stamp for the CEO and the CEO is somewhat out of touch with
employee discontent, then anger will inevitably get acted out. In one non-profit organization,
several staff members frustrated with the Executive Director asked the head of the Personnel
Committee to have the Board vote to remove the Executive Director. (A meeting between the
Personnel head, staff members and Executive was bypassed.) A split within the Board over the
Director's fate led to tension and recriminations within the Board, between the Board and Executive
Committee, between Board and staff and between Executive Director and the disaffected staff members.
Not surprisingly, both the board members siding with the Director and the loyal staff members did
not look favorably upon the staff and Personnel head that did an end run on the Executive Director.
It took six months of intense Organizational Development intervention to help all segments work
through the hurt, anger and mistrust and to rejuvenate morale and productivity levels.
conclusion, team coordination is critical at all levels/subsystems in the organization -- from the
frontline work group to the top Executive Management Committee. Try instituting these five
team building strategies: 1) Team Meeting Paradigm Shift, 2) Build In a Wavelength Segment, 3)
Plan Informal Gatherings, 4) Regular Systemic Parts-Whole Integration and 5) Autonomy and
Collaboration Among the Chiefs. Your company or agency will identify barriers to trust and
cooperation while transforming tension and conflict into productive and creative collaboration.
And, of course, these are strategies to help us all
Practice Safe Stress!
Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" , an international speaker and syndicated writer,
is America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" The Doc runs his weekly "Shrink Rap
and Group Chat" on AOL/Digital City DC Stress
Chat . See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com Stress Doc homepage (recently cited as a workplace resource in a National Public Radio feature on
"Bad Bosses"; Click here: NPR :
Who's The Worst Boss?). Email for his monthly newsletter recently showcased on List-a-Day.com.
For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs, email firstname.lastname@example.org or