Do you hate to bother your boss with a minor problem because he always seems too busy?
If so, office may be in trouble -- with both you and your boss at fault.
You're doing the boss no favor by waiting until the problem grows out of proportion. And he's not helping, by failing to recognize the don't-bother-me image he projects to his staff.
The situation, common to many workplaces, is a breakdown in "teamwork," says Dr. Arthur R. Ciancutti. The former pediatrician is executive director of the California-based Natural Learning Center, Inc., which offers "Dynamics of Teamwork" workshops to businesses across the country.
On-the-job teamwork, says Ciancutti, "is one or the most important ingredients to productivity." Without it, employes can become dissatisfied, resulting in illness, job turnover, low morale, mistrust, unnecessary union grievances, boredom and missed deadlines.
The alternative is "participation with other people in getting something done together . . . making it effortless to be engaged in effectively solving the problems rather than thinking about solving them."
To Ciancutti, 37, "The most fundamental unit in your life is your relationship with one other person. As soon as you start doing something with someone else, you've got a team." At the office, that translates into your one-on-one relationship with each of your colleagues -- peers, supervisors and subordinates.
If you as an individual can understand how affect those relationships, you can get associates working with you as a team to your and your company's greater benefit.
Take, for example, what can happen if -- as Ciancutti described at a recent Washington workshop -- you put your boss on a pedestal.
Your'r an employe with a problem only the boss can handle. But you tell yourself, "I have one or more justified reasons for not going to him":
"He's too busy."
"I tried last week."
"I feel his hands are tied."
"I'm afraid I'm going to get a bad evaluation."
Instead, you talk to your office pal Joe about it. "He's not on a pedestal," says Ciancutti. But what happens is that Joe has learned about a problem he can't solve. "He can think about it and talk about it, and that's it."
What happens next, as one staffer tells another? "There's a buzz." And for you, since your problem remains: Your "motivation will start to decrease" and your "stress level will go up."
Eventually, says Ciancutti, the problem will be identified, but by then it "looks complicated." And "the next one is growing right behind it. When you have a bothersome problem, you are participating in maintaining it in an unresolved state."
Meahwhile, there's an office "morale situation. Complaining rather than doing is a potentially contagious habit. That's an energy sink."
As for the boss, says Ciancutti, years ago he probably decided he had to put himself on the pedestal for his image. "He decided a boss should always look busy, always distracted -- even when he's bored.
"Or he got a formula for leadership that says a leader should be decisive. This guy bought it. He never shows a crack. He's always on top of it."
But, says Ciancutti, since he is human, "he will be in doubt as often as anybody." His employes, however, don't know that and don't feed him informaton he needs "because he doesn't look like he's in doubt."
Either party, recognizing the problem, can move to open better communication. "You can learn to lead without being on a pedestal," he says, "and to follow without depreciating yourself."
Ciancutti practiced pediatrics and emergency medicine from 1971 to 1977. While treating injured patients, he "noticed that his team's health care delivery was at times compromised by ineffective communication, confusion about priorities or overlapping efforts."
He became interested in the subject of teamwork, and, as a result, "I changed careers," He began his two-day workshops in 1973. They are aimed at developing insights into "interpersonal problems in your company," building trust, achieving full communication and transforming "office politics and rivalries into increased cooperation and productivity."
Among clients he lists are Boeing, California Teachers Association, Hewlett-Packard, Standard Oil, Travis Air Force Base, Macy's and the Berkeley Health Department. More than 6,000 people, he says, have completed a workshop.
One perhaps, not surprising finding: You don't get what you want unless you speak up.
As an example, he tells the workshop:
"I'm talking. I develop a cough. I want a cough drop." But he doesn't ask for one because "I might be turned down." When the drop isn't volunteered, "I cough more. Then I start talking about Smith Brothers."
This kind of indirect communication is not an uncommon tactic in offices, though it is often unsuccessful.
"There's no risk in rejection," says Ciancutti. By asking, you learn, "If I really want a cough drop I'm not going to get it here." The consequences of not asking: "People hang on, and hope gets you nowhere. Planning gets you somewhere."
Another common office problem is not "knowing how to receive." Says Ciancutti: "We know that people are motivated to contribute, no matter how cynical they are. At the end of the work day, they want to feel people are better off. And you are surrounded by others who want to contribute." But:
"Sometimes contributions are diamonds and sometimes they are dead mice."
A diamond, he says, is when your boss tells you: "Thanks, you did a great job. Here's a new project and a bonus."
A dead mouse: "Your project is not going the way it should."
That second contribution, says Ciancutti, "is being offered clumsily. But if you have the ability to receive, you can find the diamond rather than the dead mouse. The better you get at receiving, the better you get in life."
On competition in the workplace, Ciancutti says, "It's not healthy." You end up trying "to beat the other person" instead of "making your best contribution."
If "I'm playing against you for promotion, and I lose," he says, animosity could develop. But by trying to do the best job instead of beating out an opponent, "I don't have to be rankled against you."
If Ford Motors, he says, "is always going to beat Chevrolet" that "takes its eye off of making the best Ford. Teams formed by the adversary method are far less effective and satisfying than teams that make the objective challenge the adversary."
The difference, he maintains, is "in having a great team instead of a good team.