Of ‘toxic micro cultures’


‘Culture is a hypothesis’, as a friend of mine would say.

Culture is a fuzzy concept (Credits: LPK 90901 / FlickR)

‘Culture’ is a fuzzy concept (Credits: LPK 90901 / FlickR)

And by that I mean national/regional/ethnic cultures. As for me, with that kind of culture it’s a case of ‘Mind your culture, and mind that I don’t mind it 😉 ‘

But in any human group, in addition to this overall layer of culture, there tend to be micro-cultures that are shaped by ongoing, recurring practices. Some of these micro cultures are really toxic, getting everyone further away from building and cultivating healthy human systems.

Here’s a gallery tour of some toxic ‘micro cultures’.

 

High flyers can be arrogant bastards (Credits: Jamie Thingelstad / FlickR)

High flyers can be arrogant bastards (Credits: Jamie Thingelstad / FlickR)

The empty-headed high flyers

This lot is made of people usually evolving in high circles – please note that it’s not the same as saying that all people in high circles are ‘high flyers’ – and now that they have made it to the elite, they are thinking that their end game is to renew their platinum card every year and -even better- achieve lifetime platinum status. And certainly fly as much as possible to prove to everyone that they are indeed very important (duh!).

Mind that it’s a great thing to have the frequent flyer gold and platinum cards. Nothing wrong with that – and travelling is not as glamorous as everyone might believe. What is not so great here is the tendency of these high flyers to find any excuse to travel around and pretend to be busy on ‘strategic matters’ only to find themselves bitching about the luxury hotels they might be frequenting.

But more importantly: they are missing the point of having an intentional (and incidentally ecological) approach to choosing the meetings and missions they attend. It costs money, time, sometimes even peoples’ jobs, and certainly ozone to travel nearly every week.

An idea to deal with them: Ask them when was the last time one of their trips or meetings really made a difference. Consider building a collective club to share/pool frequent flyer miles and have cheaper tickets for the rest of the company. Help them say Good bye acute meetingitis and plan their day-to-day meetings as true KMers.

 

Conference Goers, all melting in a blur (Credits: Dave Shear/FlickR)

Conference Goers, all melting in a blur (Credits: Dave Shea/FlickR)

The mindless ‘conference tourists’

A very similar group to the previous one is the ‘conference tourists’ – except here the traveling is the bonus and the conference is the purpose. These people are specialised in travelling to conferences and events ALL. THE. TIME. Just find any conference that’s remotely connected to their field of work and they will appear. I used to have a colleague like that, he was travelling 9 weeks out of 10. I mean how many conferences are really meaningful to what you do? How many times do you play an active role there?

This class of folks tend to be chronic name droppers and (useless) networking machines doubling as business cards collectors. They may even be ‘conference paper milkers’ ie. with one paper written they will try and present their paper to as many events as possible. No focus, no discernment. Shoot in the dark and hope for the best.

This wannabee culture is not only superfluous but it’s also costly and dangerous for the role model it offers to other people in the same organisation. Will someone tell them conference tourism just ISN’T ok?

An idea to deal with them: Pretty much the same strategy as the high flyers, but also ask them what role they are playing, make them get aware that they are more often than not only of peripheral interest to the events they’re attending. Work with them to make their participation meaningful.

The insipid ‘gossip broth’

Gossiper (Credits: Rui Fernandes / FlickR)

Gossiper (Credits: Rui Fernandes / FlickR)

This group sticks to the office, where they have the comfort of their little routine. So much so that whatever is not part of that routine becomes both suspicious and excitingly ‘gossip material’. They spend their time meeting each other at whatever coffee corner to just talk about all the stuff that really doesn’t matter (so much) in a workplace: who is possibly enamoured with whom? Who said what about who? How is this and that person dressed? What are the manners of the new person?

No remote sense of building anything meaningful here. Just pure waste. And toxic waste at that, as usually the gossip broth don’t really back their opinions with facts, but they are very keen on spreading rumours as quickly as possible. I mean, you know them right? It’s a soup of bad comments and bad intentions. BAD ATTITUDE. Difficult to redeem.

An idea to deal with them: Do not join in gossiping, bring back the conversation on constructive matters, or simply shun these people. They’re not worth that attention.

 

Not communicating, an ideal, really? (Credits: Evo Terra / FlickR)

Not communicating, an ideal, really? (Credits: Evo Terra / FlickR)

The annoying ‘communication agnostics’

Perhaps a bit of a pet peeve here as a communication specialist but I’m so so jaded about people that make it their pride to say “I just don’t like to communicate”. I mean: do you work in total isolation? Do you live in the Arctic? Or on Kerguelen Islands? Do you never need anyone? Are you trying to build something useful to no one else but yourself at all? Unless you say Yes to all these questions, how can you remain in your splendid isolation?

We are a system, you cannot I-solate yourself, so surf and co-create the wave of our collective grace

So rub it in and do your share on communication! Because ‘We need more / better communication! But not from me…‘ is no longer acceptable.

An idea to deal with them: Try and understand their lack of motivation for communication. Is it a question of not seeing the point, not knowing what to start with or what to communicate, not knowing how to communicate and use platforms, anything else? And also find out if they are any likely to move a notch in the direction of communication or not. Some people are desperate deep-divers…

 

Are you a whiner or winner? (Credits: tlm Milburn / FlickR)

Are you a whiner or winner? (Credits: tlm Milburn / FlickR)

The eternal whining victims

Ah, this is a difficult group. This group of folks are complacent with all the stuff that happens to them. They feel it’s all a plot from outside. Nothing that happens ‘to’ them is their fault. It’s others, the environment, it’s always outside. Poor victims you first think, until you realise this is an eternal spiral they are getting themselves caught into, and if you don’t pay attention they will swallow you into their depressive and deceptive reality.

Sometimes, these whiners are doubling up with natural born boasters who think that everything they do is great. That’s a dreadful combination because it means they live in delusion at both ends of the spectrum, in what good and what bad happens to them.

An idea to deal with them: I’m not particularly good at dealing with these so I can’t give you much advice, except that having other (non victim) people in the conversations with these folks helps objectify their dialogue.

 

SocioPath (Credits: OfficialGDC / FlickR)

SocioPath (Credits: OfficialGDC / FlickR)

The sharky ‘society capitalists’

A different breed. The terroristic sociopaths. All that matters to them is money, status – acquired in whichever way – and stamping on each other’s feet to establish their power. Did I hurt? Good, because I’m the boss and you’re a door mat meant to be stampeded by superior beings like me.

The capitalistic society inherited from Taylorism and Fordism has nurtured this type and though times are changing and it’s increasingly conspicuous to be a sharky society capitalist, they are still coming forward. And they don’t care even if they’re a dying breed because they know-it-all.

An idea to deal with them: Giving them some constructive feedback on how their behaviour impacted you or others might be very good to let them see the social picture that is their blind spot, though the feast of fools of feedback might be a step too far. And perhaps if all else fails motivate to change their behaviour out of their thirst to be more effective.

The destructive ‘serials cynics’

Skeptical cynics, cynical skeptics (Credits: Jonny Goldstein/FlickR)

Skeptical cynics, cynical skeptics (Credits: Jonny Goldstein/FlickR)

This is perhaps the worst group of this lot! They love to sit on the fence and make snarky comments. Want a selection of those?

“This is not how you do business here”

“This never works”

“It won’t work with our culture”

“Been there done that, proven wrong”

“Why bother?”

“Where’s the evidence in what you’re saying?” (this one can be a very helpful question btw).

“I don’t believe it”

“Prove your point, here and now”

… These people have made their life’s trademark to make smart comments that are basically preventing anyone from attempting anything. I’ve already blogged about ‘Radical ideals and fluffy bunnies‘ and this lot are the archenemies of fluffy bunnies and idealists. They are, on the other hand, the best friends of depression, fear, immobility, and they’re perhaps the open doorway to many of the other toxic cultures mentioned above.

An idea to deal with them: FIGHT OR FLEE THIS STUFF. Snarky cynicism has never built any civilisation. A healthy dose of criticism is a worthwhile approach, but get the balance wrong and you’ll end up swimming in a tank of acid that will corrode your heart, your soul, and even your body.

A general word about changing toxic micro cultures

In addition to the tips given here, there are a couple of things that work generally to fight toxic micro cultures: One is to lead by example (With KM, life, it’s all in the attitude, so ‘JUST DO IT’ (Nike does it)), i.e. incarnating the change you want to see in the culture around you. The other is to reveal the group norms that you observe and to consistently offer alternative group norms when the existing ones verge on the toxic side – which is what facilitators do in their groups when establishing ground rules and the likes. If you believe in healthy human systems, you can propose group norms for how to give feedback, for how to make decisions, for how to discuss things, for how to listen to each other etc. These participatory values really help.

In my case this is what I try to do by cultivating the process literacy of the people and groups I work with. It is part of my own ‘contribution statement’ (covered here).

What are the toxic micro cultures that evolve too close to you? How do you deal with them?

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