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Item 9: Doing Quality Work

The twelve key dimensions that describe great workgroups (part 10)

Highly productive employees tell us there is a vast difference between being assigned to a team and actually identifying with that team. It's a common experience -- our manager assigns us to a workgroup and our name is added to the roster. Just because our name is added, however, doesn't mean that we psychologically join the team, especially if we are afraid the other members don't share our commitment to producing quality work. Helping all team members identify the characteristics that will result in a quality product can lead to greater efficiency and increased productivity.

Trusting that one's coworkers share a commitment to quality is a key to great team performance and is one of the 12 key discoveries from a multiyear research effort by The Gallup Organization. Our objective was to identify the consistent dimensions of workplaces with high levels of four critical outcomes: employee retention, customer metrics, productivity, and profitability. The research identified 12 dimensions that consistently correlate with these four outcomes -- dimensions Gallup now uses to measure the health of a workplace. An associated research effort, in which Gallup studied more than 80,000 managers, focused on discovering what great managers do to create quality workplaces.

When employees are asked, "Are you committed to quality?" they all answer in the affirmative. This reflects employees' natural, human tendency to think highly of the work they produce. Because the answer is always the same, however, the question does not differentiate the most productive workgroups from those that are less productive. Much more revealing are the answers to "My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work." Employees want their coworkers to share their commitment to quality, and want to be part of an organization that challenges and enables them to excel.

Often, the definition of quality sets the tone of a workplace culture. If quality is defined as the absence of defects or mistakes, we indirectly encourage employees to cover up mistakes or problems quickly, without drawing attention to them. In the best workplaces, managers realize that human beings will make mistakes, and can learn from correcting them. In these workplaces, quality is defined as the process of recognizing and solving problems. In healthy workplaces, employees understand that a customer's loyalty can actually increase if the employees take a positive approach toward problem solving. The best managers and workgroups do not scapegoat; rather, they see quality issues as challenges to improve their product or service and, thus, to increase positive customer outcomes.

A problem can also bring out a greater sense of teamwork. Employees who are committed to doing quality work know that a problem can improve their team cohesiveness. They use the power of the team not only to overcome the crisis, but to correct the process to avoid future problems, and move on to greater productivity and quality. Interestingly, some of the most productive teamwork is observed during these times of crisis. The excellence and the spirit of teamwork that emerge from effective problem solving are the stuff of great workplaces.

In next week's column, we explore Item 10 of 12: "I have a best friend at work."

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