What Can I Do About A Toxic Culture?

Have you been a part of group of people where the atmosphere was just fantastic? It could have been a sports team, at work, a group of volunteers or a hobby group, but it was just great the way people worked together, everyone performed well, and it was fun.

Have you been part of a group that was the opposite? You know, one of those situations where the word “toxic” comes to mind?

We’re talking workplace culture here, right? I like to think of a group culture as being what people say about it behind its back – how they would define what it was like to be part of the group if asked by someone not connected to it.

The worst part of being in a toxic culture is the feeling that you can’t do anything about it. But can you do something? What if…

Here’s an idea: Start by getting those around you to open up to the possibility of change, and getting a mental image of what it would be like if the culture changed for the better. Start by asking, “What would it be like if we didn’t work in such a toxic environment? Can you imagine what it would be like if this was a fun and productive workplace? Let’s talk about what that would be like.” Then do that. Talk about a non-toxic workplace culture, getting a clear mental picture of what that would look like, what it would feel like, how people would act. Ensure that it’s not all focused on others, but also on how you and the person you’re talking to would change and behave.

Have that conversation with every one who’s a part of your team until everyone sees what could be. This may take some time, for changing people’s mindsets can take time. But help them get the vision of a better workplace culture.

Begin modeling the behavior that will lead to the desired culture, and encourage others to do the same by giving confirming feedback to anyone who behaves the way you want, reinforcing the desired actions. People will repeat what they’ve been rewarded for, even if that reward is a simple bit of confirming feedback. And the more they repeat that behavior, the more others will follow, until one day you’ll realize that the culture has changed.

It’s easy to be a victim, and resign yourself to a miserable working environment, but you don’t need to. It’s easy to expect that the culture must be driven from the top down, and that you’ll have to wait until your bosses do something about it. But you, no matter what your position within a group, can have an impact on it. And what do you think would happen once people realized that the workplace culture had changed, and you were a major contributor to making that happen?

If you have any questions about how you can change a workplace culture, let me know. I’d love to help.

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