Since You Asked

Published: December 21, 2021

You probably shouldn’t ask the question unless you are willing to hear the answer. More importantly, you may not want to invite the conversation unless you plan to do something with the information. Feedback is a double-edged sword. The choice to strengthen a weakness almost always makes sense until you acknowledge how much work is required. When that realization sets in, many teams opt to perpetuate ‘normal’ rather than taking on the labor of growth.

Many teams across the country are reveling in ‘top workplace’ awards achieved through years of culture building investment. However, the value of these recognitions does not lie in the celebration. The opportunity lives in the relative weakness data. Statistically, two metrics tell the story when you measure the health and wellness of an organization: the mean and the standard deviation. Let’s simplify the math.

The mean (average) score tells us how strong or weak any aspect of the team may be. How aligned are we with our vision and values? To what degree does the workplace enjoy trust and connection? How hungry is the workforce for exploration, discovery, and innovation? How effectively does the team manage changes that come their way? It’s simply a high or low score given for individual measures of a team’s health.

The standard deviation (dispersion) score tells us how pervasive an issue is in the workplace. Does everyone feel the same way? Do we have a few outliers with different perspectives? Are we divided into ‘us vs. them’ factions? A low standard deviation score is an indication of team unity. Low or high, it’s simply a way to measure how deeply the issue is rooted and where it is having the deepest impact.

Teams don’t need to be broken to improve. Anyone who asks the question can find an inroad for enhancement. If you decide to follow the ‘top workplace’ celebration with a gap analysis and an action plan, the data provides a smart target.

It’s an opportunity to place your scarce resources where they matter most. A recent validation study by Elmhurst University provided overwhelming positive outcomes for teams who choose to take on the labor of growth. On page 11 of the study, the researchers noted predictable improvement for teams who choose to intervene in response to weak scores:

The mean accuracy was 95% and the AUC curve was 97.5%. This means that the model was able to accurately predict that the mean would increase, and the standard deviation decrease almost 98% of the time.”

There’s no better reason to ask the question and do something with the answer, regardless of the perceived wellness of your team. The likelihood that the actions you take in response to the metrics will lead to a stronger workplace culture are extremely high. Not asking and choosing to stay the same is always the easier path. But since you asked…

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 University 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.