In one of my earlier blogs, I talked about the 4 key ingredients of enjoying work:
- Shipping Customer Value
- Shipping Business Value
- Team / Culture
Today I wanted to talk about Culture. Especially what happens when culture goes bad.
Simply put, work culture is collective behavior of people. In other words, given a situation, how would most of the members of a team or an organization behave. Each individual has his or her own belief system, values, rationales and that is what makes us as a whole. Our beliefs and values also shape how we react to different situations in our life. Work culture however, is the common value system that serves as a beacon for all individuals in case of ambiguity. It is a collection of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that make up the regular atmosphere in a work environment.
Generally, an organization prefers to define the key components of the culture that are unshakeable. Consider these as truths that every individual must follow e.g., Respect, Integrity, Inclusion could be tenets of an organization’s culture. Each individual has autonomy to bring his or her personal self to work however each person also needs to align to the cultural tenets.
There could be moments when the lines between personal beliefs, behaviors, value systems and cultural alignment may conflict. This is when we say that the culture of the organization or a team has gone bad. There are several reasons why this work culture may go bad for example, poor communication, office gossip, poor leadership, hyper competition, personal insecurities, biases, and lack of discipline etc.
When you are at the receiving end of this cultural misalignment, you may go through a multitude of experiences and feelings. This blog attempts to rationalize what you may experience in an organization or a team where the culture has gone bad.
If you are moving to a new team where you are observing certain traits that are not aligned to your belief or value system, you may start feeling uncomfortable. This is the first phase where you will take time to acknowledge the culture. Initially, you may question your discomfort by asking questions such as:
- Am I the one who is wrong?
- Am I overreacting to certain situations?
- Is the culture bad or am I not thinking right?
- Am I missing something?
Once you see repeated patterns of cultural misfit, you may look for acknowledgement from others. At this stage you may look for a validation from others to check whether there are others who are feeling the same way as you do.
Few may choose to accept any work cultural differences. Typically, acceptance breeds from:
- the need to appreciate diverse views
- avoiding imposing your own values
- resisting stereotyping
- learning what you can
- accepting your own naivety
- not to judge views that differ from yours as wrong
However, one should not ignore cultural differences that impact you, your team, your productivity, or your mental and emotional state. Typically, these may be symptoms when the core tenets of culture are compromised i.e., respect, integrity, inclusion, diversity etc. Many times, the lines between the core tenets of culture and personal value blur and one needs an astute eye to differentiate between the two.
At the end, few may be willing to accept bad culture, but this may not last for long and acceptance soon transitions to one of the next stages described below.
Few may choose to ignore any work culture conflicts. The need to ignore bad culture breeds from the need to:
- maintain harmony
- prefer peace of mind
- avoid conflict
- fear of backlash
However, when you begin to ignore things, you need to ensure that it does not result in lack of collaboration, mental stress, anxiety or some sort of an internal build up. Here, you may ignore the current state of affairs however the differences just continue to build dissidence that would unfold in some other ways.
Typically, when you ignore bad culture, you also ignore the people who may be responsible for such behavior in your eyes. This will eventually manifest in some form of dissatisfaction in either performance, collaboration, or productivity loss.
Few brave ones may choose to take the hard path and try to transform a culture gone bad. The need to transform breeds from the need to:
- do the right thing
- bring a change
- alignment with the higher goal
- empathy towards others who may be getting impacted
Here transformation could mean taking it upon yourself to make the change or to engage with the right authority who can help.
This is a tough path since it requires you to stand up for what you may believe is the right thing to do at the cost of your existing work relations. It is highly advisable to consult a mentor to validate your concerns and then follow the transformation path. Here transformation can be brought about by following one the 3 paths:
- Share perspectives regarding your observations and feelings with those who in your opinion may be breeding the bad culture
- Share perspectives with the manager in case you see a repeated behavior of bad culture. Remember people are always coachable and they may not be aware of how their actions may be impacting you. Don’t consider reaching out to the managers as an escalation but as an opportunity to either coach yourself to deal with this situation better or for those individuals to be coached who may be breeding bad culture.
- Share your perspective and observations with the right authority in case you have exercised (1) or (2) and you see repeated behaviors.
As a leader, it is important for you to breed a culture that allows folks to speak up and not accept or ignore bad culture in your organization or team.
This may be the last phase of bad culture. As a leader, you don’t want your team members to be detached from the team or the organization. The need to detach also breeds from the need to:
- maintain harmony
- prefer peace of mind
- avoid conflict
There is a sense of hopelessness associated with this feeling of detachment. Typically, you are detached when you feel that transformation cannot happen or at least you cannot bring about this transformation.
In an organization, you need to ensure that your team does not feel detached and always believes that one can raise his or her voice and that the voice will be heard.
To summarize bad culture in an organization is detrimental to your team and organization’s well-being. It can show up in various ways i.e., poor customer empathy, lack of collaboration, poor communication, hyper competition etc. As a leader, you need to create an environment where individuals do not accept or ignore bad culture else, they will soon be detached from your organization. Build a culture that gives voice to individuals to speak up so that any individuals deviating from the core cultural tenets can be coached.
Never give up on your people.