Has the term ‘toxic culture’ become too easily applied to organisations or is the term spot on?
I guess like a lot of terms and phrases within the English Language they can easily be applied across lots of scenarios and contexts. Doing so, however, only ever diminishes the phrase. Is the phrase ‘toxic culture’ in danger of becoming over-used and, therefore, becoming irrelevant?
If I look at different media channels, social, print, broadcast I will see the term toxic being applied to all and sundry. Mostly, this is done when there seems to be some sort of conflict or perceived injustice has occurred. All too often the word ‘toxic’ is the first word those involved reach for to describe their situation.
Whenever someone speaks their mind and challenges a popular opinion that person is labelled toxic. The word is all over the place!
You might ask, what’s the problem? Why does this matter?
Avoiding Conflict plants the seed for a Toxic Culture
My focus is working with organisations and teams to create collaborative dynamics and cultures. An essential element of such a culture is the ability to deal with conflict and use it as a positive force. Sometimes even the hint that conflict can be considered a positive driver is enough for some to speak up and tell me conflict is never positive and thinking like that is just toxic! Here is the problem. These individuals, whilst claiming not to like conflict and at the same time not wishing to come across as aggressive, seem to have no qualms telling everyone else there will be no challenge to their dogmatic viewpoint about conflict!
Organisations will never achieve a collaborative or high performing culture if terms like ‘conflict’ or ‘challenge’ are viewed as toxic. The individuals within teams that view conflict as toxic are stopping any meaningful progress being made. They are in effect creating the ‘toxic’ culture!
Beliefs such as ‘conflict is bad for my mental health’ and so I avoid it at all costs result in zero engagement and discussion. Of course, the opposite is true, is it not. Active engagement and discussion result in more honesty and trust and these are fantastic for your mental health.
Tolerating Dysfunctional Behaviour
Over the course of my career I have been involved in many scenarios of what I prefer to call ‘dysfunctional teams’. The people in the teams are never an issue. The behaviours and beliefs that dominate the team are always the issue. Sometimes a small number of team members may be responsible for keeping their beliefs at the forefront of the team’s performance. Not challenging these inhibiting beliefs tends to result in the dysfunctional team performance. Shifting those beliefs is the art and science of a skilled facilitator. That is where my experience has been honed and refined.
Are you experiencing the impact of ‘cliques’ forming in your teams? Is there a sense that a team views itself as ‘better’ or ‘superior’ to others? Do any of your teams feel uneasy about engaging with other teams? If so, you have dysfunctional beliefs and behaviours running. This is not toxic, it is normal everyday dynamics. Not challenging these beliefs and behaviours is what results in the development of a toxic culture. Other teams will look at you as leaders and question why such low performance is tolerated. It is the tolerance of dysfunctional beliefs and behaviours that erodes trust in organisations.
Naturally, this is a very different from a situation where you have an intense personality clash between individuals within teams. These situations can become heated and aggressive. This is a different form of dysfunctional behaviour and organisations can also tolerate this if the individuals are seen as critical to the success of the team. Tolerance is the key!
Creating a crossroads of Choice
Engaging with this type of behaviour is not easy, after all, the individuals involved have typically withdrawn from any engagement previously. Organisations that choose to engage this behaviour succeed, those that don’t see employee turnover rise, retention drop, costs go up and margins decrease. When this happens you really do have a toxic culture on your hands.
Through my company, Seek First Ltd, I have worked in many such scenarios and achieved a successful outcome where these teams and individuals have increased their engagement and performance. Ok, mostly, those that have unconsciously controlled the dynamics have tended to move on as a result of our work. Sometimes, that is what is required. Taking people to that crossroads of choice is in itself a delicate skill. When employees understand that the only behaviours and beliefs that will be tolerated are those that support collaboration and engagement you may well see some choose to move on.
Sometimes, using a behavioural profiling tool such as C-me Profiles is strongly recommended. These profiles can quickly give employees a framework for understanding different behaviours and communications style. This leads to more understanding earlier in the process. Having been accredited to many colour based profiling tools, I recommend C-me as the best on the market!
Get in touch, we can assist you in developing that healthy collaborative and engaged culture.