The Bravery to Look in the Mirror

Published: June 16, 2011

"How are we doing?" "Fine, why do you ask?" "How are we doing?" "Well, since you asked..."

The most difficult stage of self-assessment is the decision to do so. Some teams abide by the adage, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” or “Never ask a question about which you don’t want the answer.” Brave teams, however, invite the answer even if it contains bad news. Beyond a fleeting glance, looking in the mirror requires bravery.

Adventurousness and risk were ingrained in the culture of the youth services organization that most recently embarked on the introspective diagnostic. Their work was hatched in the most dangerous neighborhoods of Chicago where access to resources is rarely on the Maslow pyramid when safety and sustenance rule the day. So, without asking, they knew they performed important, life-altering, world-changing work. The question at hand was whether they could engage in their mission more effectively.

The retreat was designed to evaluate every element of their culture: organizational vision, open communication, customer focus, sense of community, sustainability, employee development, succession, teamwork, commitment to wellness, and stewardship. Strengths and vulnerabilities were identified and the gap analysis revealed target action plans. Receptivity to feedback and accountability for change was promised by the leadership team. A follow-up measurement was scheduled. A call to action had resulted in a palpable uptick in organizational energy. Risks were about to be taken.

Although related, insight and action aren’t always partnered. Igniting a new idea only begins a change process. Assuming initiative and sustaining a commitment are different professional competencies. This is what empowers thriving teams to avoid complacency and stagnation: the willingness to take an unsolicited, extended gaze in the mirror rather than waiting for a cultural blemish to require it.

So, go ahead, ask the question. How are we doing?

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.