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Want to be a team player but don’t have the time?

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Question: “How can I get across the fact that I’m very busy without seeming like I’m not a team player? I’m the executive assistant to the CEO and two partners. I’m also the CEO’s personal assistant. The attitude in my office is that I can’t be doing much since I don’t support a team.” — Anonymous

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Tori Baltimore October 19, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Oh my gosh! I totally feel you. I am the Operations Director Asst and I make a file for everything and I have about 8 different stackable bins on my desk there are two employees that will make slurs or comments “Wow your desk is neat” or they will come over asking for something just to see what I am doing. I use to bring in cakes, cookies; I have brought breakfast and lunch, I have made lunch in the office I keep a bucket of chocolate on my desk. One of them said no one really likes you here anyway! I asked why? No reason was given how can you just not like someone? I am never rude I always ask if I can help. The girl that said it? I have taken her home when it was cold or snow! Am I stupid? I go home and cry everynight I dont know what to do. Help?

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Anon June 24, 2009 at 6:42 pm

I agree with Chicago who said you support the Executive Team, and your first priority is to take care of them. You do not have to justify or defend the organizational skills which make you appear not to be busy to anybody in the office. That’s why you are such a hihg-level admin in the first place.. I also agree with Gamehen that you should be friendly and sociable with the other support staff, as it reflects favorably on you and your “team”. If somebody is swamped with a ‘drop dead’ project and you have some spare time, you should consider offering to help, with the caveat that your bosses have first call on your time.

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Karen June 9, 2009 at 8:26 am

I am also an assistant to 2-3 Directors and I know you are multitasking your heart out!!!

I show my team player spirit everytime someone asks something I dont know…I find out and figure it out! Sometimes I spend a lot of my time researching the task but I always come out being a teamplayer!

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Jocelyn June 8, 2009 at 1:49 pm

I agree that you are working for the executives of the company and that makes it hard to help when needed etc., but just pick one or two types of things to pitch in on every once and awhile. Like offer to help with something you know is quick and easy, or offer suggestions that you might notice would help them during their day, bring in donuts for everyone. You will be seen as an outcast unfortunetly if not, and if and when you need them, you want them to be willing to help out. Trust me it makes all the difference when you are on the receiving end if ever needed!

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Mark June 5, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Sometimes people will never get it until it is too late. My “revenge” that finally got them to realize this at one job was, when I left, they had to hire two people to replace me. I found out later it was not until then that they realized how much work I did.

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Charles HR June 5, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Knowing that 80% of the work is done by 20% of it employee it’s hard to appease those that are trying to hide. They soon forget the mission

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Cece June 5, 2009 at 2:57 pm

It would be nice to socialize and offer to help when you have a ‘little’ spare time. But from what I read you do not have the spare time. I agree with Gamehen . So, I also suggest to be pleasant and social when you can and do your work to your bosses satisfaction when you can not. The other people are on the outside looking in and they obviously so not see the whole picture. I do not believe it is your job to explain (calmly or otherwise) what you have going on nor do I believe that you should spread yourself any thinner if you are as busy as you sound. At some point you will feel the stress of trying to please everyone if you are only doing it to appease those that are being noisy (jealous).

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Lisa May 29, 2009 at 5:17 pm

I totally agree with Chicagoan – you DO have a “team”: the Executive Team. Your work may be very different than the work of others in your company, so it may be hard for people to understand what you do. Make an effort to reach out and chat with your co-workers — casual “How’s your morning been going?” chatting might help them to understand how you spend your time.

My suggestion is to offer to help others whenever you can. I think most of us have little pockets of time when we could help out other people. My work follows a fairly predictable pattern each month; my least busy time is the week after my monthly Board meeting is over. This becomes my “catch-up week” and provides a great opportunity to see if I can help others with projects.

Even if you have just 15 or 30 minutes to spare — ask someone if there’s anything you can do to help. Let them know your specific timeframe (“I have about half an hour today when I can help with XYZ project — is there anything I can do?”). If someone mentions how busy they are, jump in with an offer to help; that’s a great oppportunity for team-building. A little extra effort goes a long way toward building relationships with your co-workers. Don’t forget – you may be part of the Executive Team, but you’re also part of the “Company Team.”

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theadmin May 29, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Holy cow! You live my life – - well my job anyway. I agree with gamehen that you should make the time to say hello and make conversation. The other admin in my office don’t always reciprocate, but I try. I work for the two co-founders of our firm (we have six offices in six cities and one international office) and I do a lot of persoanl assisting things for one of them (his wife, the kids and his wife’s friends at times too) and deal with alot of confidential information, but when I can hand some off, I ask for help. This helps them understand my workload. In our offices, I suggested that we hire a floater too. This is someone who fills in where needed and she has been a real help. Dealing with just your position, know this: you are not going to be liked by everyone, there will be alot of people that are jealous, but if you do your job to the best of your ability all the time it doesn’t matter what they think or think they know, you and your bosses know the quality of your work and that is all that matters. You are not there to impress your co-workers, you are there to make your bosses life easier so that he can get to the business of making the money to pay you your salary (probably the highest salary of anyone there).

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Joyce May 29, 2009 at 4:42 pm

A couple of the companies I left, only after I left, did people realize how much work I did because every time the staff wanted something they were told “Oh, she use to handle that” and/or they had to bring in two people to cover what I did. Of course, everyone wants to be appreciated while they’re doing the job, but I noticed that if your position is viewed that of a “secretary” (no matter what official title you have), most of your efforts go unrecognized by the staff, even if you do play the role of a “team player.” Just focus on getting the job done, being and doing the best in the position you have, be respectful of others, volunteer where you can, but know that no matter what and how much you do, you’re not going to please everyone. Make sure your boss(es) are aware of what you do since they are the ones who review your performance (I keep an ongoing list of special projects et al to attach to my job description which I submit to my boss annually before they start writing up my review.) The best response would be “sounds exciting, let me check if I can work it into my schedule, and get back to you by (time/date),” even if you already think you know what the answer will be. If you can, great–maybe you can play a SMALL part, like getting the meeting announcements out to the players. If not, just say “keep me in mind for future projects, and hopefully the timing will be right for me to be able to join in where my plate is not overflowing.” If there is no way ever for you to do anything with others in the company, take comfort in what “Chicagoan” says — you are already part of a team.

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Chicagoan May 29, 2009 at 4:24 pm

I re-read your question to clearly understand the concern. Just wanted to mention that you DO have a team – you are on the Executive Team. Depending on where the criticism is being generated, you don’t necessarily owe an explanation to idle comments; nor do you need to assume more responsibility for their sake. If your team is producing and your team leaders are satisfied with your productivity, focus on that.

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Vera DC May 29, 2009 at 3:11 pm

I recommend making time for at least one team, but the first step would be speaking with the CEO/executives to see if they would support your efforts. As an EA, I understand “busy”, but I do sit on several teams as a representative of the CEO/Executive office. It’s a great way to “see” what’s happening out there and to meet with others that make the organization what it is. Your presence means more than adding to your to-do list and it should have meaning for you as well as others.

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Kathy B May 29, 2009 at 2:40 pm

I totally agree with gamehen! I am much in the same spot and have found the little things to make a huge difference. I have recently been promoted and given even more responsibilities. Some of the new tasks will require cooperation from other areas, and I realize now that unless I nurture some sort of understanding among them, that cooperation will cost me big. We have one in the office who is too busy and refuses to extend a moments kindness to anyone and it has resulted in an atmosphere that no one is comfortable in.

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Ilja Kraag May 29, 2009 at 2:40 pm

I agree with Amanda, Anonymous, and Gamehen. To reach the highest level you have to be extremely organized and disciplined, to file everything right away, and have a place for everything. And that’s the reason why we function so well and the people around us think we must not have much to do. I also agree with Gamehen that the little things can have a big impact. To show what my work entails, I have made a bulletpoint list with all the tasks I am responsible for, devided first in main topics, then split out in detail. It looks quite impressive. Most people, including our bosses, don’t know about all the small tasks we do every day to make our desks run smoothly. I also love the saying: “Ofcourse I don’t look busy. I did it right the first time.”

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Karen D May 29, 2009 at 2:23 pm

When you have more than one “team” in an organization but more than one administrative assistant, no matter your title, I found it helpful to have Admin Team Meetings, monthly or quarterly. Each meeting on the agenda are items where you each share your world with your peers collectively and encourage brainstorming on issues. How well you encourage the entire admin team to share in supportive, non-judgemental communications can bring a new appreciation for each other’s particular roles. You can take turns chairing your meetings and thereby encourage leadership qualities as well as provide mentoring to each other. Good luck!

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gamehen May 29, 2009 at 2:18 pm

I can understand that you are frustrated by the situation. I think you have to re-evaluate your time. I too have been in the position of Exec. Admin to the boss plus others at the same time. Sometimes it takes nothing more than a few minutes at lunch to be sociable or a few minutes at the beginning of the day when you grab coffee to say hello and have a brief conversation. Usually it’s the small things that matter. I found if I made sure I sent out birthday cards when appropriate or maybe a simple thank you email, it made a huge difference. You are viewed completely different from all other Admins. It’s not always a desirable place to be but it is what it is and comes with the position. Just be warm, responsive and personable at every opportunity. After all you reflect your boss and the appearance of being unapproachable is not a good reflection.

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Anonymous May 29, 2009 at 2:17 pm

I have found that simply explaining that if my desk was not organized that I would not be able to accomplish the quantity/quality of work that I do.

I work for two departments and one on sub-department – splitting my days in two.

Most of my co-workers that I interact with understand but some have commented on how “neat” my desk/work area is and they don’t know how I do it. They just don’t seem to be around when I am in the middle of a project and my desk is covered.

I have found that designating specific shelves & drawers to each department helps – and even separate in boxes. I don’t mix them and at the end of the day or morning, as the case may be, I put things up so that I can move on more easily.

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Amanda May 29, 2009 at 2:07 pm

I am in a similar situation: “Oh, your desk is too organized. You must not have anything to do” when in reality, it’s placed in drawers or it is computer work that doesn’t have accompanying papers. I have learned that when people challenge my level of productivity, I calmly explain to them everything I have going on. It’s not that I feel I have to explain myself, because my boss is aware of what I do and she is the only one that matters, but I work in an environment where I am the only assistant, and the people around me don’t fully understand what I do. Sometimes people don’t realize the volume of work I actually accomplish, so politely telling them has worked in creating awareness. They are also more respectful of my time now that they know I am usually in the middle of 50 things.

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