Leadership in Action – 3 Difficult Steps to Fixing a Dysfunctional Culture

Leadership in Action – 3 Difficult Steps to Fixing a Dysfunctional Culture


This Leadership Series generally focuses on the nuances needed to help lead a team and culture to better performance by following the model of Connect the DotsEnergize Action and Nurture Growth. The assumption is that the culture shift is from good to great. But, what needs to happen when the culture is dysfunctional? To escape the “dysfunction function,” these 3 steps need to happen first.


Wake Up to the Data that has been In Front of You…

We all have SCOTOMAs (blind spots) to information that does not fit our own view of reality.  Anecdotal data, stories, patterns of behavior and rumors that confront us, well, we rationalize away as isolated cases, not really what is happening everywhere. As leaders, we need to wake up and see the data for what it is. The first way to do that is to start with a culture survey like The Cultural BluePrint™. Use this qualitative data as a starting point to create conversations and focus groups on the real issues facing your organization. Connect the anecdotal information to the qualitative data, and look at the real cost of your ineffective culture, both short term and long term.


What got You Here will No Longer Work

One way to look at culture is as the normative expectations to fit in and get ahead, within a social system. As a leader in your organization, you have excelled at following the norms of a dysfunctional culture. You got to your level, by being better at the culture than the peers you entered the organization with. Culture is the unwritten rules of what is rewarded and what is punished. You now need to take the brave step of throwing out those rules. As you establish the vision for the culture you want, you then need to establish the values and expectations of behavior that are to be universally expected and rewarded. One key caution: When the culture is dysfunctional, as leaders we accept poor behaviors from certain individuals because of the revenue they support. As long as you ignore their inappropriate behavior, your culture will remain dysfunctional.


Systemic Change

While leadership has the biggest impact on culture, over time, the leaders have set up systems to enable the culture to sustain itself. Everything, from the hiring, promotion and succession planning process to leadership decision making, has been established to maintain a dysfunctional culture. These systems create in-groups and out-groups, haves and have nots.  As a leader, you want to establish teams to review and revise systems to support the vision culture and to dismantle old systems that are no longer providing value to the organization. In establishing these teams to adjust the system, you need to make sure that the previous “out groups” are well represented and heard, in order to create real change in your organization. Establish stretch goals to engage the entire organization in the process, always aligned around the new vision and shared expectations.


These first three steps can create discomfort from within, as the “in groups” are locked on to the power they believe they are losing. Your job is to demonstrate both how the current reality was no longer sustainable and the vision you are moving toward engages all members of the organization in a sustainable, thriving future.