Tech Brief Principal Preparer:
Kristyn Stem, MSH/Communications
Creating a Work Climate That Motivates Staff
and Improves Performance
• A positive work climate leads to and sustains employee motivation, high
performance, and better results in health care.
• Good leadership and management practices contribute to a positive
Work climate is the “weather of the workplace.” Just as the weather can affect daily activities, the work climate
influences employee behavior. Every organization has a work climate. Within an organization, the climate of an
individual work group may differ from the prevailing organizational climate. High-performing work groups can
operate well even in organizations that are troubled by declining funding, weak senior leadership, or similar
Work-group climate influences results. A positive work-group climate motivates employees to improve their
performance by going above and beyond job expectations. Better performing work groups contribute to better
organizational performance, which in turn leads to better results. In the health sector a good work-group climate
leads to improved service delivery and thus to better health outcomes.
Good Leadership and Management
How managers perform is crucial to organizational
outcomes. Work-group climate itself is an intermediate
outcome of effective leadership and management. At least
50 percent of the differences in work-group climate can be
attributed to differences in day-to-day practices of the
people who manage the work group.1 Organizational
practices that managers can influence, such as the design
of tasks and jobs, reward systems, policies and
procedures, and strategy, can also have a large impact.2
To influence a work group’s climate, managers need to:
• Understand the three key dimensions of work climate;
• Assess the climate of their work group; and
• Take action to improve their work group’s climate.
Three Key Dimensions of Work Climate
Clarity. An environment provides clarity when the group
knows its roles and responsibilities within the overall
Support. In a supportive environment, staff members feel
that they have the resources and backing they need to
achieve the work group’s goals.
Challenge. An environment of challenge offers group
members opportunities to stretch their abilities, take
reasonable risks in solving problems, and discover new
ways of working to become more effective.
All three dimensions are needed to improve performance and achieve better health care results. For example,
staff members who work in an environment of challenge but who lack support or clarity often experience stress
and frustration that prevent them from becoming more effective. Similarly, without challenge or support, even
people who are clear about what is expected of them often find little intellectual or professional stimulation in their
work. In contrast, the right balance of clarity, support, and challenge in a work group’s climate enables the staff to
improve performance and achieve better results.
An assessment of the prevailing work climate is a vital first step to improvement. A work group can measure its
own climate using a short survey—the Workgroup Climate Assessment (WCA). Work-group climate is measured
according to the perceptions of the individual work-group members. The WCA consists of eight climate
perceptions which, together, measure the group’s climate. While the WCA primarily measures work-group
climate, it also engages work-group members in a conversation about their particular climate so that, together,
they can find ways to improve it. The WCA encourages a participatory process—that is, team members, including
the manager, first respond to the survey individually and then discuss and act upon the results together.
The WCA tool and facilitator’s guide can be accessed at:
A positive work group climate is a primary intermediate outcome of leadership and management
development efforts to improve the performance of managers and their work groups. By tracking a
baseline and changes in work-group climate, the WCA makes an important contribution to monitoring
leadership and management improvements to strengthen health care service delivery in developing
countries. Use of this tool by MSH consistently shows an association between positive changes in
work-group climate and achievement of work-group goals to improve health care service delivery.
Because work-group climate is influenced by the actions of the work-group manager and members, improving
managerial leadership and operational practices will improve the climate. Depending upon the deficiencies
identified by the WCA process, work groups could undertake the following activities: get to know one another
better through routine or periodic events scheduled during or after work hours; clarify mutual expectations for
performing work; define and align the work group around shared goals and aspirations; inspire team members by
recognizing their accomplishments; schedule regular meetings to exchange information on progress towards
goals and learning; strengthen organizational management systems, especially those that promote work
efficiency; monitor progress; and use mistakes as opportunities for learning to do things better. No matter what
actions managers or other members of a work group take, they should communicate effectively with each other in
ways that encourage understanding and learning.
1Buckingham M, Coffman C. First Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. New York: Simon and
2Stringer R. Leadership and Organizational Climate. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall; 2002.
Where to get more information: This brief is based on Chapter 3 from Managers Who Lead: A Handbook for Improving Health
Services, published with support from the US Agency for International Development through the Management and Leadership
Program under award number HRN-A-00-00-00014-00. See http://www.msh.org/resources/publications/LandM_handbook.html.
Perry C, LeMay N, Rodway G, Tracy A, Galer J. Validating a work group climate assessment tool for improving the performance of
public health organizations. Human Resources for Health. 2005; 3 (10) http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1478-4491-3-10.
Designed and produced by: The INFO Project at the Johns Hopkins
Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Communication Programs.
Published with support from the United States Agency for International
Development (USAID), Global, GH/POP/PEC, under the terms of Grant No.