Unit climate; Why it matters and your role in developing it

  • Published
  • By Col. Joseph Schulz
  • 121 ARW
By now, I hope everyone has attended one of the Unit Training Assembly Wing Commander's Calls on the topic of climate. I'd like to take this opportunity to review and expand on some of the topics, and provide a quick overview for any of you who may have missed it.

The idea of organizational climate is hardly a new one, but it is getting renewed emphasis both here at 121st and Air Force wide. This year, Officer Performance Reports (OPRs) and Enlisted Performance Reports (EPRs) were changed to articulate the requirement for Officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) to contribute to a positive unit climate. Here at the 121st, we are emphasizing climate because it gives us a mechanism for breaking the cycle of hyper-focusing on one problem area while other issues receive less attention than they deserve.

There are two major benefits to this focus on climate. First, climate is everywhere; commanders and supervisors can't be. If we emphasize only compliance, downward-directed standards and enforcement, we are telling our members what NOT to do. Furthermore, with a "because I said so" mentality, people tend to conform to the expected standards only when supervised. All of us need to understand the benefits that a strong professional climate brings to the mission and the workplace, and be a part of establishing and maintaining that climate. Second, focusing on climate allows us to look forward instead of back. We break out of the cycle of reacting to negative issues that pop up, and get into the business of preventing future negative issues. Even more importantly, we focus on true improvement and creating excellence in the organization as opposed to "playing for a tie" by responding to problems when they happen.

So what is the intended climate for the 121st? Very simply: All Airmen Treated with Dignity and Respect.  Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2406 says that the goal is to "create an environment where teamwork, unity and cohesiveness are the standard practice." That's a good start, but we'd like to take it a step further; our Wing climate goal is to create an environment where professionalism and teamwork are the ONLY accepted standards. Professionalism involves our conduct, leadership, initiative, and the professional development of ourselves and those who work for us. Teamwork means knowing the mission and how you contribute to it, but also learning about other organizations and what they do, and taking pride in the contributions of your fellow Airmen as well as your own. Think outside of your own organization and take the time to learn what other Airmen here do.

Notice that our goal is an environment where teamwork and professionalism are the only accepted standards, without making distinctions regarding who accepts this. The intention is that this environment is the only standard that ANY of us will accept. Certainly we each have unique roles and responsibilities in this regard, but the climate of our Wing reflects upon every one of us and therefore it is everyone's business to influence it. Commanders, officers, and NCOs are specifically held accountable for this per the AFI, and I doubt that anyone would dispute the fact that being a positive influence on organizational climate is a basic tenet of good leadership. However, don't underestimate the influence you have on your peers, coworkers, and even supervisors. If you see a problem or know a better way to do something, don't sit by and wait for someone in a formal leadership position to do something about it. Have the courage to speak up. I think you'll find that others were thinking the same thing, but didn't have the guts to say it.  You don't need a lot of stripes to be a leader.

Thus far, this article has focused on what we all need to DO to establish and maintain a positive, effective climate. Now I'd like to shift the discussion to what you can EXPECT while working in such an organization. You can expect to be treated fairly and professionally. You can expect to have your contributions, your capabilities and your time valued. You can expect to be mentored and trained to reach your full potential. You can expect honest feedback and performance assessment. You can expect corrections/inputs from your peers if you screw up. You can expect your coworkers and supervisors to listen respectfully if you tell them politely that they've said or done something that makes you uncomfortable. You can expect the mission to thrive because Airmen are truly working as a team and feel that they have each other's backs. In an environment of trust, we can all strive for our full potential. You can expect to be able to trust your leadership enough to give them bad news. Finally, you can expect to look forward to coming to work each day because you are doing a mission that matters for our country, state and community, and you work in an environment that lets you do this as effectively as possible.

I'm not trying to suggest that we can create a utopia where the sun shines on the unicorns every day if we just think more about climate. But I do truly believe that with a persistent focus on these basic ideas of teamwork and professionalism at ALL levels of the organization, we can make lasting improvements in the Wing. We all have a stake in the outcome and every one of us plays an important role in the process. Thanks for everything you do to get the mission accomplished and to make this a great Wing to be a part of.