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5 Telltale Signs Your Office Culture Is a Problem

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Think of corporate culture as the human spine. If it's well-formed and agile, it supports the body well over time; if it's bent out of shape inside, the body winds up in enormous and constant pain.Unfortunately, when an organization is misaligned, the pain is felt not only companywide but also by its individual employees. So no matter what your role in your own organization, here are 5 things to look for to assess its level of health. If something is out of whack, it pays to prepare yourself in advance for managing the symptoms that will inevitably come up:

  • Decision-making: A framework of principles, informed by a constant stream of data, is a healthy way to plot a course of action. It is not healthy to delay decisions interminably or to use arbitrary, gut-based, person-based, situational "I just feel like it" reasoning.
  • Empowerment: Define the job accurately, hire people who can do the job and who play well with others, and then let them do their job. If you're second-guessing them every minute, you may as well fire them and save the money. 
  • Prioritization: Yes you have a lot of things to do and a lot of emails within which to discuss those things. Not all of those things are equally important. Dump most of it and there will be absolutely zero impact to your productivity. An organization that refuses or fails to prioritize and instead categorizes busywork as productivity is an organization that is trying to engage in empire-building rather than the delivery of value to the customer.
  • Attitude: We are excited to be here. We have a great team. We are here to improve, we can improve and we will improve without fail. This is the way work should be approached every single second of every day. A culture of negativity, gossip, complaining, and rumination about why things will never get better is a culture that drags otherwise positive people down into a pit. That pit will swallow innovation whole.
  • Meetings: They should be relatively short and oriented at engaging people in a discussion. Attendees need to know the agenda in advance and do their homework beforehand. If some people are sitting around picking their noses and playing with their iPhones under the desk while other people are droning on, then something is wrong.

Of course, it goes without saying that you should not try to fix any or all of these problems on your own. As a sociologist with nearly 20 years of studying organizations both formally and informally, I can tell you that this is a recipe for workplace suicide. What you can do, though, is model a healthier way; call out the contradictions between the company's espoused ideals and the ones it is practicing. Over time, as you quietly demonstrate consistent productivity, others will follow your example.

Copyright 2016 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. The opinions expressed are her own, and the content of this post is not intended to represent any federal agency or the government as a whole.

Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., is a federal communicator with 20 years' experience in the private sector, academia and government. Best known for her work on branding, Dr. Blumenthal now focuses on the discipline of management, particularly the intersections between identity, culture and communication. She has lectured at a variety of schools including The George Washington University and the University of Maryland University College. In her spare time she is an independent community activist, focused primarily on raising awareness about child sexual abuse and domestic violence. All opinions are her own.

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