Toxic Team Culture

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Last updated 22 Nov 12:44

TL;DR

Dangerous toxic team culture spreads easily. It is often started by a combination of bad management and disinvolved employees. It is crucial to deal with it as soon as possible - learn how to recognize the symptoms.

What Is a Toxic Team Culture

Spreading like a virus, consuming the team spirit - toxic team culture should be dealt with as soon as possible. Sometimes the actual work you have to do is not the most difficult part of your job. If you feel like there are too many obstacles to deal with, critical approvals take too long, or no one appreciates what you are doing, it can mean one thing - the toxic culture is spreading in your team.

Toxic team culture is dangerous. Unhappy workers are less productive and they tend to make more mistakes. The toxic culture can cause a high fluctuation, jeopardize the company’s visions and goals, lead to technical debt, or endanger the product. It should be dealt with as soon as possible because it can spread quite fast.

These are the few signs of a toxic team culture:

  1. No friendly atmosphere
    You notice the lack of communication, no sharing, no joking. It seems like people are not happy to work there. This sign is obvious to a newcomer - the employees tend to get used to it and stop noticing it.
  2. Titles obsession
    The job titles and power become more important than the actual work.
  3. Rules
    The rules are everywhere and people are scared of breaking them. Good judgment based on experience is less important.
  4. Management vs. employees
    Managers are a separated group and do not interact much with the employees. It is a one-way communication with a zero collaboration between management and everyone else.
  5. Nonfunctioning HR department
    Even though HR people notice that the employees are not happy, they do not do anything about it. They are not there for them. They pretend not to notice the dark atmosphere.
  6. Never speaking up
    People resign to speak up even if they are presented with impossible goals.
  7. Focusing on weaknesses
    You hear everyone talk about demerits and company’s weaknesses much more than about achievements.
  8. Effective grapevine
    Grapevine becomes the primary source of information. The official company communication is not very effective.
  9. Poor work performance
    Employees are not motivated for better performance. Their extra work is not rewarded.
  10. Fear is spreading
    Whispering, gossips, fear for positions, fighting for the manager’s favor. No one knows what to do to keep the job.
  11. Community does not exist
    Employees who joke and laugh with each other become suspicious. Outspoken people do not last long.
  12. Skipping meetings
    Employees or managers skip meetings and make up some lame excuses. This is very disrespectful to the other team members and their time.

Toxic Culture
Source: The Performance Room: 10 signs that show your work culture is toxic

Reasons for the Toxic Team Culture

Who or what is responsible for the toxic culture in your team?

To be fair, it is not always just a problem of bad management. Individuals at every level can contribute to the toxicity. Anyone can spread rumors or feed the dark atmosphere otherwise. It is often a combination of separated business leaders, bad management and disengaged employees. The core values of the company are not defined or not shared.

How to cure a toxic culture?

Anyone can participate in healing this unfortunate environment. The problem is that everyone can come up with an excuse why not to get engaged. Low-level employees might be scared of getting fired when they speak up. Mid-level managers can feel that they do not have enough power to deal with this situation. High-level management does not want to jeopardize their position. The CEO does not know about the problem because people do not feel like they can talk to him.

  • Talk and listen
    Start with talking to each other. Face-to-face communication is crucial. One-to-one sessions can help the manager to get precious information from a frustrated employee. Maybe not immediately but if the employees gain trust after a few sessions, they can start talking.
  • Quarantine
    If you identify the person who spreads the toxic culture, you have to keep their interactions with the rest of the team members to a minimum. Revisit and document the employee’s toxic behavior. Talk to them and explain why is it not ok.
  • Evaluate and monitor
    Evaluate each employee’s behavior regularly. Assign realistic workloads
    Be aware of how long each task takes. Ask the employees, reconsider wrong decisions.
  • Reward
    Let the employees recognize each other. Encourage them to express and receive appreciation from each other as frequently as possible.
  • Same rules
    Treat everyone equally.

Resources for the Toxic Team Culture