Organisational culture is about the way we do things in this business. A toxic culture is characterised as one where people do things from behind closed doors, often without even consulting those involved. One of the first signs of an unhealthy organisational culture is a fiercely competitive attitude. People at the top don’t want any input from people not on their “top of the tree”.

Here’s an example…

When you are working in an organisation with a toxic culture, you notice that senior leaders do not want to hear from anyone, including the people who report to them. They are constantly telling their senior team to “cut it out” or “look in your rear end”, and so on. This behaviour reflects a toxic culture where senior leaders are disempowering those beneath them through behaviours designed to “show the boss”. One of my favourite metaphors is of a “zoo”, whereby the animals are all zoos with one leader leading a band of zoos who are all “lesser” animals. Toxic culture in organisations is like a “zoo” of inferior leaders who are only interested in their advancement within the organisation and have no interest in the well being of others.

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Another sign of a toxic culture is that people are not taking enough risks. In the current climate where everyone is working harder than ever, the stress of managing uncertainty has taken its toll on both employees and staff. Suppose people feel uncertain and tense all the time. In that case, they are not taking advantage of all the opportunities that working in a collaborative team environment affords them – and this means that they are not contributing as much as they could to the growth and welfare of the organisation. Toxic leaders encourage employees to “play it safe” rather than “risk their lives playing it”.

Toxic organisations often have a problem with openness and transparency. If you do not consult your line managers or other stakeholders on what strategies or plans you plan to implement, how can they tell if they are being utilised to their full capacity? Lack of transparency also makes it hard for the organisation to move forward when a new strategy or idea is required, which often causes delays and high costs. Toxic leadership cultures will resist implementing changes unless there is extensive consultation and engagement.

If an organisation adopts a culture of constant change, it will reap the benefits. People enjoy ongoing challenges and thrive on the opportunity to be a little different. Change adds excitement and challenge into our lives and working in a supportive, creative and inclusive environment helps us achieve these goals. The only problem with a toxic work culture is when it becomes such a problem that it destroys the very heart of teamwork – sharing of ideas and information. These workplaces tend to make us feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.

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Organisational culture is not inherited; it is acquired. An organisation can create a positive workplace culture by choosing leaders who are willing to be different and taking a holistic approach to recruitment and induction. A good leader will know that every person in their organisation needs support, especially when staff face unprecedented levels of pressure and stress. Change does not come overnight, but if companies continue to implement their best practices and focus on recruitment and development, they will soon notice results. Organisational culture gives businesses a competitive advantage and recognises that a culture of innovation and collaboration is the key to success. Organisational culture is all about creating a workplace where people feel safe, supported and valued.

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