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by Matt Thomas

Last week we laid out four types of healthy organizational cultures. This week we’re going to hit on the other side of the spectrum, the four types of toxic cultures. In our contracts, we reserve the right to cancel an engagement in the first 30 days. The reason this clause exists is that on occasion while executing a culture assessment we surface significant dysfunction or toxicity that we believe we will not be able to overcome. In short, it is impossible for us to recruit with integrity if the organization we are recruiting for is ultimately a toxic environment. If we aren’t excited about the opportunity, then we can’t sell it. It is that simple. 

In some of our strategy and leadership engagements we have been brought in to identify the source of the toxicity and help the client lay out a path towards health. While toxicity can exist at every level of an organization it is no surprise that it is most detrimental at the leadership level. It is impossible for an organization to be a healthy vibrant place to work if the leadership is dysfunctional. Here are four types of toxic cultures:

Several times each year our firm is hired to assess organizational culture. These culture assessments primarily serve to inform our recruiting efforts, but on occasion they afford us the opportunity to help business leaders get a clearer gauge of their organizational health. We spend time with the senior leadership team, middle managers, front lines, and more, working through the same set of questions. For example, “which of the core values do you resonate with the most and why?” “How would you assess the leadership of the organization?” The responses are anonymous and thus produce some fairly honest feedback. We pool the data and summarize our findings in a report for the senior leadership team. Often, what follows is a significant shift in the cultural trajectory.

As a baseline we have developed a framework for four types of healthy cultures and four types of toxic cultures. Today we’ll focus on the former.