At a speaking engagement recently, I asked my audience about their culture. I asked them to raise their hand for 1 of 3 choices to state where their company resided along a conflict continuum:
Culture of Nice- On the left of the continuum there is no conflict and people hold back their real opinions for fear of political ramifications, thus creating artificial harmony.
Culture of Nasty- On the right of the continuum there is mean spirited conflict that is personal and there is no accountability for the bullies.
Healthy Culture – In the middle of the continuum is an organization that engages in productive ideological conflict where nobody holds back their opinions, but it's not personal. If something is worth disagreeing about, they speak up.
Where would you place your organization along the continuum? There were only a couple of hands that selected a healthy culture and the vast majority were in a culture of nice.
Most executives are in their comfort zone working on business fundamentals like “strategy, marketing, finance and technology” yet all these areas will suffer if an organization is unhealthy. Healthy businesses operate with “minimal politics and confusion,” and with “high degrees of morale and productivity, and very low turnover,” says Patrick Lencioni, author of The Advantage.
The benefits of organizational health are hard to quantify, so leaders often don’t even try to achieve it. They focus their time and energy on business staples, even if they recognize that being healthier could do a lot for their organization. Even those who recognize the damaging effects of infighting, confusion, and low morale – problems that healthy organizations can avoid – would rather focus on business staples than deal with emotions or uncomfortable interactions.
Solid strategy and industry expertise can’t counterbalance the hazards of an unhealthy corporate culture. Firms with an unhealthy culture are less able to handle problems, recover from mistakes or respond to opportunities. High-functioning, healthy companies keep improving over time because they can progress without having to overcome their own systemic flaws. Healthy firms capitalize on their staffers’ intelligence and expertise, while unhealthy organizations fail despite having smart, capable, knowledgeable people. According to The Advantage, healthy organizations practice four disciplines:
Build a Cohesive Leadership Team which relies on trust, productive conflict, commitment, accountability and results. For a simple team building exercise, ask each team member to speak briefly about his or her childhood and family life. Revealing a little about themselves helps people open up in a discussion. Individuals need this common ground to connect and to relate. Sometimes personal histories shed light on an ongoing sticking point that helps other members of the team understand why they behave the way they do.
Create Clarity. Define your organization’s core purpose and ensure every employee understands it and finds it inspirational. Successful organizations have principles that guide their actions. These are not buzzwords, but rather a motivating reason for existing.
Over Communicate Clarity. Clarifying your company’s reason for existence (values, strategic anchor’s and goals) is not enough. You must communicate these core messages repeatedly. An email and a company announcement are not enough. They must be reinforced in order for employees to believe you are earnest, sincere and committed to them.
Reinforce Clarity. Embed the values, strategies, and objectives into all aspects of your organization. Incorporate and bolster these tenets in your processes starting with hiring and orientation.