The seven secret culture killers in your business

You can do everything in your power to try and cultivate a thriving and happy workplace culture, however are these secret and often undetected things killing your culture? 

Here are seven things that can kill a culture as fast as it takes to say ‘culture killer’.

1. Battle of the egos 

This one may not be a secret culture killer, as we all know that when you place a few big characters in one room that operate solely from their egos, it can quickly dismantle any cohesive team. 

The question is — how do you manage this? Play up to their strengths and what they perceive as their talents and support them to know how those strengths contribute to the team. Continue to reinforce that they are a valued part of the team and that everyone’s voice needs to be heard and considered in decision-making.  

Often bruised or hurt egos go into ‘independent’ mode, where they can’t trust or rely on others, so they may only focus on themselves. 

Again, focus on equally distributing tasks and responsibilities across the team and encourage them to trust their team from both a practical and psychological perspective. 

2. Focusing only on output and task completion without engaging people

A sense of belonging, team morale and celebrating milestones and completion of tasks together can be a detrimental way to build a positive workplace culture. 

Without these micro-celebrations and acknowledgements, or focusing only on producing and completing work without introducing a social aspect or sense of teamwork, team dynamics can quickly become stale and unmotivating — with employees feeling dehumanised and just a ‘cog in the wheel’.

Place a time in your calendar on a regular basis to engage with your team in a casual setting or to celebrate. This may be a monthly team dinner, a quarterly half day retreat or simply knocking off an hour earlier on a Friday to have a drink and reflect on the week that’s been. 

3. Red tape, bureaucracy and politics

A rapid-fire way to crush creativity, innovation, independent thinking and new ideas, as well as motivation and progress is to introduce too much red tape and politics. 

Although there are some industries and businesses that red tape is inevitable, the key is to find a productive way to tackle this in a way that doesn’t dishearten or create learned helplessness within teams.

Can you independently assess how much your team is being weighed down by politics of a business, and how much it’s affecting productivity? 

4. Calling people out publicly 

American football coach and National Football League executive, coined as one of the greatest leaders of his time — Vince Lombardi — famously said, “Always praise in public and criticise in private”

No matter how small a criticism or ‘piece of feedback’ may be to you, it is important to be aware of how this may be received by a staff member, and how they may be humiliated if it is brought up in front of others. 

Praising others in public settings can create a culture of celebration, appreciation and positivity, however be very careful about how the flipside of this can impact on culture — when criticism, blame or ‘making an example of’ cases are highlighted. 

5. ‘Brilliant jerks’ — ignoring bad behaviour from high performers

They may be outstanding at what they do, and produce work to an exceptionally high standard, however there is no room on a team for ‘brilliant jerks’.

So why might you have a tendency to sweep any ill-feeling behaviour aside from high performers?

Ignoring bullying behaviour, sexual harassment, or ‘letting things slide’ because they’re ‘good at their job’, is no exception. 

This is especially important if the behaviour is coming from senior leadership or management. 

Leadership tends to unequivocally set the standard and examples of how the rest of the company should behave, so it is important to nip this in the bud before your business becomes an infectious culture of toxic behaviour.

6. Expecting perfection and setting the bar too high 

A fast way to turn a high performer into a poor performer is placing high expectations and unnecessary pressure or deadlines on them. 

As a leader, it is important to carefully assess what each team member’s individual capacity and threshold is. 

One team member may find their most optimised performance through a high volume of work in a fast-paced environment, where another may find one or two key bigger tasks they can solely focus on means a higher quality of delivery. 

If a team member believes they are delivering at 100% of their output capacity, and told to deliver a higher standard of work, it can quickly erode their confidence.

7. Looking outwards too much — modeling other company’s visions, not your authentic 

What is your company’s unique and authentic vision and mission? It is wonderful to seek inspiration and model your leadership and approach by companies that have already forged the pathway forward, however if you are too focused on what ‘others are doing’, it can quickly sweep you off track. 

Every business is different, and what your unique offering and experience brings is needed in the world. 



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