Monday, October 19, 2009

A happy workplace is a productive one.

Mark the middle manager sat down at the head of the table and called us to order. A bull-necked man with a paunch wearing aviator glasses sat next to him. None of us had seen this dude before. His two big, freckly hands lay quietly on the table in front of him as he deliberately surveyed the room. Dickie Dicer leaned over and whispered, "I yam what I yam." Lucy Doe examined her cuticles. T-Boy affected a careless air and Big Hat's leg started thumping like a beaver's tail. Here was the brain trust, ready to review yet another set of spreadsheets still warm from the copying machine. But who was the stranger?

Shite. Another week had gone by and the news was just as bad as it'd been all year -- the little arrow was still pointing to "empty" and now the price structure was collapsing. Oy. Goddamn retailers -- weren't they supposed to be our partners? Peggy Kaiser tried to make eye contact with someone, but no one looked up. She was all alone.

Mark cleared his throat. "I'd like to introduce Dr. Dan Blankopf. I'm going to let him explain what he'll be doing -- I think you'll find it interesting. The Boss wanted to be here but he's still planning the holiday train set-up for the building lobby. In fact, Dr. Dan is helping him, right?"

Dr. Dan smiled thinly and fiddled with his enormous gold Rolex. "That's right." Then he slowly removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Thanks Mark." -- apparently Mark was done talking -- "I'd like to tell you a little about myself and then describe what I'll be doing here. Let me start by saying that The Boss and I have been working together for a few months now, and I think we've developed a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. That's the kind of relationship I hope to have with all of you." We began shifting in our seats as the table vibrated to Big Hat's bouncing leg.

"The Boss is very concerned about you. So he's brought me on board to help everyone get back on track. I'm a therapist, a counselor, and a consultant. I've been a soldier, a seminarian, a teacher, a hedge fund manager, a hunting guide, an arbitrator, a balloonist, a psychoanalyst, a white-water specialist, a New York City police detective, a published author, and a personal trainer. I've got degrees in English, Psychology, Business, International Relations, Social Work, Pharmacology, and Urdu. I've seen the world and worked with dozens of management teams under all kinds of conditions. I've got homes in Rancho Mirage, Vail, Chevy Chase, and an apartment right here in Manhattan. Two kids, one in med school, the other an artist. My friends call me Mr. 4-H 'cause I'm a four handicap golfer, my business partners call me Mr. Poker-face, and my patients call me Dr. Bliss. You can call me Dan. That's who I am. Any questions so far?"

We sat there stunned. The Boss had brought in a shrink -- or whatever this guy was -- to join our management meetings? Why? Did he think the team was
that dysfunctional?

"No questions? Okay. Listen -- I know I'm going to have to earn your trust and respect. Just like you're going to have to earn mine. That's the name of the game. Mutual trust, mutual respect. If we can establish that kind of relationship, I can help pull you out of this mess. But if you resist, nothing's gonna happen. It's up to you. I collect my check either way. Heh-heh."

T-Boy coughed as Lucy Doe twisted a paperclip. Randy Randy sighed. Big Hat raised his hand and blurted, "I think it is so smart to build that kind of relationship. We're really ready for it. We just need someone to show us how." Dr. Dan sniffed the air trying to detect a scent of irony, but there was none. Big Hat really meant what he said. The rest of us glared at him.

"Good." Dr. Dan stood up and ambled over to the whiteboard. "Let's start by going around the table. I'd like to hear each one of you tell me where you're at today. I've seen your test results, so I know that you're not all happy. That's okay. Psychometrics isn't everything. We're here to get the problems out in the open so we can deal with them. There are just two rules. Rule one: whatever is said in this room stays in this room. Rule two: don't talk about the books, or the lists, or the publishing process, or your customers, or your sales budgets. Phase one of this process is not about the content of your day-to-day work, it's about your
feelings. We want you to be happy. We can address the nuts-and-bolts later, once you start to feel better about yourselves. Any questions?"

Peggy Kaiser looked at him and said, "Isn't that unrealistic? I mean, our feelings here are mostly about the day-to-day work we're doing. How can we avoid talking about the process and customers and such if you want us to address the way we feel about things?"

Dr. Dan smiled broadly. He had an awful lot of teeth in his mouth. "That's a great, Peggy. It's Peggy, isn't it? A great place to start if you want to build trust and respect. Just say whatever comes into your mind. In some ways, there's even a part of me that agrees with you. At the end of the day, though, we can't hold a serious conversation without setting some ground rules. It sounds to me like you're angry about something. And this anger of yours is impeding progress for the whole group. I can tell. Maybe we should start with you. This anger is not normal. Maybe it's something we can solve together. Okay?"

Peggy looked like a broken dish. We were all too embarrassed to say anything. She had gone and done it again -- asked an impertinent question just when things were starting to settle down. It was easy to agree with Dr. Dan -- there
was something pathological about Peggy. Maybe there was something pathological about all of us.

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