Dissecting toxic work cultures

Dissecting toxic work cultures

Dissecting toxic work cultures Earlier this week, The NY Times published a story regarding wealth addiction and the toxic culture that runs rampant on Wall Street.

The author, Sam Polk, chronicled his time on Wall Street and the toxic culture that still exists in the heart of investment banking.

“In the months before bonuses were handed out, the trading floor started to feel like a neighbourhood in “The Wire” when the heroin runs out,” he wrote. “Wall Street is a toxic culture that encourages the grandiosity of people who are desperately trying to feel powerful.”

While chances of one’s organization reaching the levels of a Wall Street business in terms of toxicity are low, HR should be wary of toxic cultures infecting their teams.
The whitepaper, Toxic Teams: Four Steps to Transforming Dysfunctional Teams, by Leading Geeks, warns that toxic teams can manifest from seemingly harmless behaviour.

No teams start out toxic – they may develop into them overtime due to behaviour that is often inconsistent with the rest of the team’s expectations. The behaviour can be as simple as a manager showing up late to meetings, or as drastic as a team member being publically shamed.

Once the behaviour occurs, opinions and observations are developed by the rest of the team which can trigger negative emotional responses, which may then spiral into broader assumptions about the team. If enough of these develop, the team’s culture will become toxic. Examples of these assumptions include:
  • Mistakes are unacceptable here.
  • I should avoid blame at all costs.
  • Excellence is not rewarded, so I may as well be mediocre.
  • Sharing ideas can get me punished, so I’ll keep quiet.
  • Management doesn’t look out for our interest, so we must take care of ourselves.
  • You win here by taking others down, not doing good work.
  • My work is meaningless.
Once people begin acting on these assumptions and are not punished, those on the receiving end will respond in kind. It is easy to see how this can spiral out of control.

On Page Two: What you can do to change the pattern

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