Nobody wants to work in a dysfunctional workplace. A healthy office culture plays a critical role in not only productivity, but also employee retention and happiness.
You can identify a weak team by looking for common dysfunctional behaviors. Most teams with problems exhibit more than one of these behaviors, and they’ve become a habitual part of the team culture. But there’s hope! There are ways to break these bad habits, if the whole team can start practicing healthier behaviors instead.
The Company Grapevine Is Sour
Gossip is one of the worst habits a work team can get into, but it’s one of the most common. It often starts with good intentions, when someone needs to process, share, or let off steam, so they turn to a friendly colleague and start to unload. But the basis of gossiping is “venting,” which is an unhealthy coping strategy (check out this blog post I wrote for IAAP to learn more), and bad for office culture. And when you gossip and vent with other team members, you’re probably doing that instead of actually talking to your manager.
Break the Habit By…
Communicating instead of gossiping. Real communication involves not withholding important information. If you’re frustrated, your manager needs to know. If something is going wrong, your manager needs to know. If you don’t have what you need to be effective, your manager needs to know. To break this habit, remember what you learned as a child: “if you wouldn’t say it to their face, think about whether you should be saying it at all.” It’s fine to lean on your colleague friends for support, but in most cases, it should be done after you’ve started the conversation with your boss.
You Can’t Whine Your Way to the Top
Good for you for deciding to have a conversation with your boss about something that’s been weighing on you! But before you walk in there, let’s take a look at what you’re going to say. In my second job out of college, the cultural norm was that people complained to their bosses A. Lot. I didn’t realize how much I had internalized the habit until I moved into my next job, with a management title. It was my job to solve problems as a manager, yet I was routinely approaching my boss with complaints, and no solutions
Break the Habit By…
Solving instead of complaining. Think up at least one potential solution before you walk into your boss’s office. That solution may not work. It may not even be feasible to try! But your boss will likely give you bonus points simply for having a solution-oriented mindset. And the more you practice this new habit, the better you’ll get at coming up with workable solutions.
Look Like an Ass…umption
In today’s work environment, time is at a premium. Faster is always better. And because we value speed, I’ve noticed that a lot of workplaces rely on assumptions. Workers assume that X will be handled the way it always has. They assume that Y colleague is taking care of Z issue. Making assumptions can save time, but only if the assumptions are correct. If they’re wrong? Well, you’ve wasted far more time than you’ve saved.
Break the Habit by…
Asking instead of assuming. When I work with organizations going through change, I often hear employees saying “I don’t want to ask because I don’t want to look stupid” or “I didn’t ask because if I asked about the project, I thought they might assign me more work and I’m already too busy.” This points to both a trust issue and a communication issue. But no matter your title, you can model healthy inquiry (that doesn’t earn you more work or a label of being stupid!) by phrasing things like “I’d love more context on X, so that I can answer any questions the clients may have” or “you seem to be really knowledgeable about Z, and I’d love to know more. Could I buy you a cup of coffee and tap into your wisdom?”
It’s hard for one person to change an office culture alone. And if you notice these bad habits at your workplace, it may take more than just you to fix it. But if you start with open communication with your superiors, then show them that you’re a problem-solver who isn’t afraid to ask tough questions, you may just have a shot at influencing a team-wide culture change.