7 Signs Your Culture is Sick
I don’t want to be a pessimist, but I think there’s more sickness in organizational cultures than health.
Healthy organizational culture results from focused attention.
Sick cultures indicate distraction and neglect.
7 signs your culture is sick:
- Isolation prevails. Leaders and employees work in silos.
- CYA dominates. The first thing people think about when something goes wrong is how to cover their asses. CYA translates into, “Who can we blame?”
- Gravy stays at the top. Leaders keep the good jobs for themselves and delegate crap to everyone else.
- Gossip is endorsed. I’ll never forget a leader endorsing the practice of talking about people behind their back under the guise of confidentiality.
- Secrets abound. Organizations that need secrets have too many inequities.
- Politicians prevail. When brown-nosers, butt kissers, and credit-stealers prevail, self-serving and mediocrity wins.
- Developing people is an inconvenience.
7 signs your culture is healthy:
- Organizational success trumps personal success. Team members commit to do what’s best for their team and organization. It’s time to leave if what’s best for the organization isn’t also good for you.
- Elephants dance. Healthy cultures discuss tough issues with optimism, toughness, and kindness.
- Diversity abounds. Cross-functional teams, diverse age groups, and the presence of female participants is expected and normal.
- Open minds win. Alternatives are invited, honored, and explored. Teams committed to one solution can’t adapt as they go.
- Leaders lift others. The spotlight points to performance not position in healthy organizations.
- People know and respect each other’s strengths. One of the best things you can do for your team is take the Clifton Strengthsfinder and publicly discuss results.
- Everyone knows what matters. Boldness requires confidence. Confidence is born in knowledge of and alignment with mission and vision.
Bonus: Forgiveness fuels innovation in healthy organizations. Mistakes are learning opportunities. Innovation requires failure.
Leadership challenge: Make healthy culture a leadership priority.
What are the symptoms of a sick organizational culture?
What are the signs an organizational culture is healthy?
I think the success of any organisation lies in the fact that all constituents feel sense of belonging ness which comes only through team building
Thanks VAVA. Yes. We want to feel like we belong. Belonging is a little deeper than feeling like we fit in. Powerful.
Yes Dan, sense of belonging ness comes naturally and not through compulsion. I belong to a Bank which was non entity in 70’s but declared one of the best in the Industry. All employees right from the Office Boy to the GM used to belong themselves to the bank Ready to contribute 24x7x365
I think are times we can do a quick gut check (like returning from a vacation) and get a sense of how healthy the organization is, provided we are self-aware and always willing to self-examine first. If we come back from a vacation and aren’t enthused about returning take time to talk to your manager or have a skip-level meeting and talk about it. State that it’s not just about you wanting to feel better, but it’s about speaking up for others that you know must also feel the same but are too intimidated by the culture at hand to stick their necks out.
Thanks James. The term “energy” comes to mind. Is energy high? Does work persistently drain us? Do we feel good about our successes and optimistic about the future? Thanks for getting my mind going.
Dan sadly Cultures are sick today. As you know well Leadership and Culture are the Flip side of each other. Famous management writers have noted that for decades. Almost all aspects of organizations tie to one of two over riding concepts.
Leaders can help form and shape Cultures. And Cultures can accept or reject Leaders. We need stronger Leaders to fix this issue.
Brad James http://www.bradszootales.com
Thanks Brad. In the battle between individuals and environments, environments typically win. Successful leaders create environments where people love coming to work.
What is the 7th sign an organization is sick? Only see 6.
Thanks Doug. Somehow I deleted it. Thanks for the heads up.
Great post! I agree with all the signs. I really appreciate and relate with the Bonus: Forgiveness fuels innovation in healthy organizations. Mistakes are learning opportunities. Innovation requires failure.
I love this.Forgiveness fuels innovation. I think some people might argue that, but from my experience this is 100% true. The blame game and forgiveness cannot co-exist so when you forgive you get the unhealthy blaming out of your culture.
All great points.
Thanks Billy. We might be uncomfortable with the term forgiveness, but I think it works. 🙂
Silos are only good on farms.
When I read the title of this post I immediately thought that the company I work for would be oh-so-sick…but looking at the signs of a healthy culture, we do a lot of those things collectively. We have diversity, fairly healthy debates, and talk about the dancing elephants to name a few. I think we could be better at it and it seems like so much of this is just setting ego aside to benefit the bigger picture; we should know better by now…but we are trying. I wonder why I immediately went to the negative…?
Also, I wanted to point out that (and correct me if I’m wrong) secrets aren’t the same thing as proprietary information, correct? We have a lot of proprietary and military projects that we can’t discuss publically but that isn’t a negative secret situation. In my opinion, that’s more about preservation of the mission and values of the company and it’s clients. What I’m thinking of when you mention secrets is a lack of transparency within the walls of the company which is breeding ground for the gossip and conspiracy theories and general bad feelings.
In 29+ years as faculty, virtually every class I facilitated had projects developed and presented by teams of students. I randomly assigned teams of three. Their first assignment as a team was to develop what I called a ‘Team Performance Agreement’ or TPA. The only impact on course grade was not submitting one, though I routinely suggested a rewrite for teams that clearly had not understood the importance of the TPA. In your terminology, it was obvious from the TPA which teams had healthy cultures and which ones had sick cultures!!! As I always told the class, the best outcomes came from the teams with the healthy cultures. Always!!!
Thanks Dan. You have embraced the “both/and” of healthy/unhealthy cultures. I love reading blogs that offer both sides of the equation. You have avoided judging those cultures who might be unhealthy and offered growth ideas to make all cultures healthier. I appreciate this!
Dan, you are bang on! This works for church and for corporations. With my experience, the sad thing is that companies embrace the changes whereas churches…well…you know. I appreciate your blog and your insights. Blessings.
Dianna, I will assume the culture is not necessarily desirable and multiple stakeholders want change (but maybe leadership hasn’t caught up). If so, I think it’s a matter of being the change you, and the organization, needs. If all you can influence is your own little corner of the world, we’ll go ahead and influence it!
The challenge for you is you are going to have to stand out. And that’s scary. But don’t we all want to be a standout? Aren’t we all trying to make our mark? What’s the worst that can happen? They fire you? If you can’t live with that, you need to find a way to fit into their culture, rather than finding a way to change it.
If you manage a small team, I’d encourage them to be the showcase for others. I would challenge the teams I was on to not accept the status quo, that change started with us and we had an opportunity to show others how it could be different.
I will caution you that you’re in for the long haul. This won’t be easy. But lord is it sweet when you pull it off.
Thank you for your thoughts. Gandhi had it right when he said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I do my best each day to do my part by behaving the way I wish every person would behave toward me . . . change is slow and steady without any expectations (and, therefore, fewer disappointments.)
Hypothetically, of course, how do those working under the conditions in List #1 make progress toward List #2? In other words, how do those not in leadership positions take a step toward improving the culture? Forwarding this post will likely have retaliatory/defensive response and consequences! : /
Is it possible to change the culture of an organization without being in the top management level? As of now, I am a firm believer that culture trickles down.
Healthy cultures share information and encourage action
Here here! “Healthy organizational culture results from focused attention.” You get what you create and you get what you allow – Dr. Henry Cloud says. If you want a healthy culture, you have to cultivate what you want, otherwise you’ll have a culture but not the one you want.
Excellent Dan! Culture is everything in an organization. Your organizational culture and climate will determine the course of success or failure. It is up to CEOs and top leadership to determine, establish and mold the type culture they wish for their organization or it will become something entirely destructive. Consider the analogy of a garden that is well taken care of compared to one that is left to it’s own demise. One will flourish and produce glorious bounty while the other will destroy itself as unwanted weeds will choke and devour.
Great post, Dan. I think a lot of organizations are in a “cultural purgatory” — they don’t really fit the profile of an unhealthy culture, but they lack the signs of a healthy culture. If company leaders don’t actively participate in or foster a healthy culture, it can meander aimlessly. I’ve worked at several companies where there were silos of healthy culture and other silos of very unhealthy culture in different groups. That can be true even when there’s just 100 or 200 people. I wonder if others have experienced the same thing?
And one thing I’m glad you *didn’t* list under healthy cultures – all company meetings, picnics, outings, etc. Those are useful in their own right, but too many people equate that to “company culture.”
Wow, this is uncanny. I was recently let go from a place where they hit every single one of these.