A professional is an individual who is a skilled practitioner in her field and who takes pride in her work. There are many facets to professionalism, many of which require some practice to perfect, such as interpersonal communication. Others, including appropriate work attire, may be somewhat controversial and debated. Nevertheless, these issues are core to professionalism, and certain activities can help improve group understanding and the level of overall professionalism in your organization.
Take stock of your level of professionalism with a self-assessment. This will help you understand your areas of strength and ways in which you can grow. Many organizations post such inventories online. The state of Louisiana, for instance, encourages its employees to review and rate themselves on several questions regarding communication, problem solving, customer service and continual learning. Complete one of these questionnaires, then identify three areas of high competence and flag three areas for further development. If working with a cohesive group, share your results with co-workers. Each individual should have the right to share selectively, as answers and results may be personal.
In his book "True Professionalism: The Courage to Care About Your Clients and Career," author David Maister claims that true professionals have an attitude about their work that focuses on pride, quality and a dedication to others. You can examine and uncover a variety of attitudes by working through mock scenarios. For instance, give a small group an example of an employee who does the bare minimum, perhaps a waiter who never does anything more than he is asked. Have the group examine the motivations and subsequent consequences of his actions. Is he well-liked by his customers? Will he receive good tips? Next, provide an example of an employee who takes great pride in her position and always looks for ways to add value. Ask your group to draw conclusions about the level of personal success, job satisfaction and opportunity for advancement between these two scenarios.
The ability to listen carefully and to communicate your ideas and feelings effectively can greatly improve working relationships and can lead to greater productivity. In one activity, a pair of employees can be charged with deciding the appropriate time needed for an upcoming project. As each employee will play an active role in the project, allow each to take a turn explaining his workload and ability to finish the task in the specific time frame. Encourage them to practice self-advocacy by using "I" statements rather than "you" statements. For example, one might say, "I can complete this task in one month rather than two weeks because of competing priorities." This encourages employees to take ownership of their roles and not blame others by saying, "You aren't giving me enough time to get this done." Each individual should restate the needs of her colleague to encourage validation and active listening.
Each employee is an ambassador of the organization, and the way that he presents himself can either improve or diminish the view of the organization in the eyes of others. Ask a small group to brainstorm specific aspects of attire and physical grooming that they've seen in past jobs. Next, ask them to honestly evaluate the first impressions that were associated with those individuals. For example, if a man shows up each day in a crumpled suit and a scraggly beard, what does that say about his care for himself and the company's image? Likewise, if a colleague comes to work in neatly pressed slacks, is well-groomed and has an encouraging smile, how does this make you feel about working with him? Although there may not be group consensus on each scenario, it's important to solicit the sincere opinions of numerous people and allow a conversation to develop.