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The Official Baldrige Blog

Humor and Hazards: Unexpected Experiences on a Baldrige Site Visit

A group of diverse women and men sitting at a table discussing a topic.

How can we describe what it’s like—in a few words—to serve on a team of Baldrige examiners during the site visit phase of the selection process for the nation’s highest award for organizational excellence?

Hard work? For sure!
An intense learning experience? Check.
Lots of laughs? Turns out, yes.

The Work of a Baldrige Site Visit Team

On Baldrige site visits, teams of trained volunteers bring expertise from a cross-section of sectors, in effect representing U.S. organizations of a range of sizes and states. They spend several days of the weeklong experience visiting an award applicant’s facilities. There they work alternatively in pairs and as a full group, examining documents and data and interviewing leaders and frontline employees.

In the evenings, they hole up together in a hotel conference room with highly restricted access (to maintain the promise of confidentiality for Baldrige Award applicants). For countless hours, they participate in team discussions about new findings about the award applicant’s performance in relation to the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence. And they complete scorebook worksheets that will be seen by a panel of judges. During the process, their work becomes a feedback report for the organization that details key strengths and opportunities for improvement toward achieving excellence.

What Could Be Funny about That?

You might be surprised by the good times I’ve seen teams have on site visits even while they remain seriously focused on following the process and performing a thorough and appropriate evaluation. 

Taking great care not to divulge any applicant-identifying information, I’ll share the gist of a few light-hearted moments from site visits in recent years.

We Shall Not Eat Chocolate - Wrong!

Basket of different types of Chocolate bars
Credit: VIREN DESAI/Shutterstock
In advance of the site visit week, several team members have conveyed dietary preferences that reflect a strong focus on healthful eating. Yet they will soon find themselves spending a dozen or more hours a day in a room filled with chocolate candy bars (food servers apparently misread a request for “Power Bars”). And the tempting treats can’t be removed regularly due to security restrictions of the award process. Only one person will claim she didn’t gain weight this week, and no one will go home lighter!

What's the Score?
On the first night together during site visit preparation, two members happen to be quietly checking at regular intervals the score of a football game in progress. They happen to be sitting next to each other. It soon becomes apparent that they are following the same game—and that they each happen to be extremely devoted fans of opposing teams that happen to be playing that game. Their team mates will be amused by their contrasting facial expressions as the game changes over the next hour or two.

"Team B" or "The B Team"?

Two men and a woman standing discussing documentation they are holding.
Credit: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock
Prior to the team’s first deployment on the applicant’s site, the examiner team leader assigns all members to groups of two or three as part of the strategy for supporting each other for note taking during the daily meetings and walk-around interviews at the organization. The groups are initially called Team A, Team B, and so forth. Yet somehow, the team leader accidentally starts calling Team B “the B Team.” One of the group’s members—who once harbored a keen sense of injustice as a middle child—will then track every perceived slight by the team leader toward the group, however subtle or supposedly (deceptively!) guileless and innocent. And the three will also note the team leader’s extra-generous kudos to the A Team, commiserate in self-pity—and plot revenge.

Senior Leader Humor
The team has been on site for a full day. A lot of information has been requested not only on this day but, also, in advance of the week. This means several people across the organization have been exceptionally busy, pulling out and copying data and documents for the examiners’ perusal. The senior leader overseeing all of this is exhausted. Yet he graciously sits down for another interview. As it ends, he politely asks the team leader if the visiting group has yet been able to get out and about to enjoy local attractions. The examiner explains that the team is limited from such sightseeing by the demands of their evening workload throughout the week. With a smile breaking across his face, the senior leader responds in good humor, “Ha—payback!”

A Quiet Friday Evening - Wait, What?

Sign that reads Yes It's Friday
Credit: Ekaterina_Minaeva/Shutterstock
Thank goodness it is Friday! But the team of Baldrige examiners is now working harder than ever to complete their work: reaching consensus on all scores and finalizing feedback comments for the organization’s benefit. The team leader has set target times for all the final steps, and members who have completed their own tasks ahead of schedule are supporting others. Little do they know there is an outside incentive to meet or beat their deadline: the restaurant just outside their work space will be hosting a very lively event involving loud music—and paintballs. Will the examiners emerge from their work to face a cross-fire of colorful paint? They’ll never tell.

Enrich Your Career and Improve Organizational Performance

Become A Baldrige Examiner. People in a business setting having a discussion. Credit:

2018 Baldrige Examiner Training LEAD Award winner for custom content programming continuing education program with emphasis on leadership/organizational development.

Become a Baldrige Examiner

If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind professional development and networking opportunity, and the chance to make a meaningful contribution to organizational improvement and U.S. competitiveness, apply to serve as a volunteer on the Baldrige Board of Examiners.

Application Opens: November 2018

The 2019 Board of Examiner Application will open in November 2018 and close in January 2019.


About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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