Three Conditions Calling For Action on Workplace Civility

Most of the time, CREW is about addressing problems, but not all the time. Recently, a client chose a CREW intervention for her workgroups to give their culture a boost. The groups were not experiencing serious problems, but they lacked the energy necessary to fulfill their potential. The groups were more dull than troubled.

Condition One: Abusive Work Environments

The need for taking action to improve working relationships is obvious when employees report chronic bullying, abuse, or intimidation. Employees’ distress is obvious. Their distress is clearly linked to what’s happening among people on the unit.

Addressing these situations often requires work on organizational policies prior to establishing CREW groups. Abuse has power issues that exceed the capacity of team members. Groups experiencing chronic abuse have either failed to access effective organizational procedures or the organization lacks effective procedures. Progress in building a civil work environment builds on a foundation of effective policies. Putting those policies in place is the first step towards building a sense of psychological safety.

Condition Two: Uncivil Work Environments

The difference between Abusive and Uncivil is a matter of degree and of intention. Abuse is more intense than incivility: rather than uncivilly ignoring colleagues, abuse actively offends them. Importantly, abuse is clearly intended while incivility is often a matter of neglect, lacking a deliberate intention to disturb someone.

When the problem is incivility, the process can go directly to building the positive encounters that define a supportive team culture. Establishing psychological safety within the CREW meetings is a more direct process. Then the meetings can address civility in day-to-day interactions.

Condition Three: Frustrated Potential

Some groups are just dull. Despite the presence of talented people and challenging opportunities, they operate in such an ordinary way. They can roll along in ordinary circumstance being reasonably productive, but they never fulfill the hopes that they had for themselves or that others had for them. The client I mentioned was determined to improve her groups because circumstances were not ordinary. The larger organization was intent upon focusing its resources to improve their productivity. Groups that failed the process would likely be eliminated. Across the board cuts were not acceptable; the executive was insisting upon meaningful and sustainable advances in productivity. The client felt that these workgroups needed to improve the quality of their communications and working relationships to meet the challenge.

For Frustrated Potential groups, CREW can help to build a sense of organizational resilience. That resilience can help the group realize their potential when addressing serious challenges.


Supportive working relationships are a fundamental resource. Effective action can make a world of difference for a workgroup.

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