Dysfunctional Cultures

Some of the signs in organisational cultures that display dysfunctionality include

- culture of "no" - organisations dominated by cynics and critics who will always find a good reason not to do something, ie

"...piling on criticism is an easy way to avoid taking risk and claim false superiority. ... It is especially likely in organisations that are divided into large subunits or segments, led by local leaders with great power who are often unwilling to comply with directives from above..."

David Garvin et al, 2005

- too much concentration on process - this results in confusion of ends and means, form and content, ie

"...How you present a proposal becomes more important than what you propose......despite the appearance of progress there is little real headway..."

David Garvin et al, 2006

- diversification as a smoke screen - to avoid facing challenges/problems in their core business, staff will focus on diversification via new products and/or services, and/or new lines of business

- dysfunctional routines are hidden - often dysfunctional routines are hard to spot because so much is placed under cover, ie

"...politics triumphs over substance, staff meetings become empty rituals, and meddling becomes the norm..."

David Garvin et al, 2006

- paralysis by analysis - the organisation's inability to set a definitive course of action; there is continual fine-tuning of proposals and reports but no decision. This is most common in perfectionist cultures where mistakes are career threatening and people 'who rock the boat' drown

- head down, bunker mentality - management repeatedly proclaims a state of crisis but takes no action. As a result, staff are reluctant to respond to management directives, with most staff believing that the wisest course of action is to ignore new initiatives, or work around them, or 'sit on the fence' until they go away.

- passive-aggressive, ie

"...a place where more energy is put into thwarting things than starting them, but in the nicest way......organisation's quiet but tenacious resistance, in every way but openly, to corporate directives.......people pay those directives lip service, putting in only an effort to appear compliant. Employees feel free to do as they see fit because there are hardly ever unpleasant consequences, and the directives themselves are often misguided and now seem worthy of defiance. Making matters worse, senior management has left unclear where accountability actually lies, in effect absolving managers of final responsibility for anything they do. Those with initiative must wait interminably for a go-ahead, and actions when finally taken are accompanied by a chorus of second guessing, a poor but understandable substitute for the satisfaction of accomplishing the task at hand......when employees' healthy impulses - to learn, to share, to achieve - are not encouraged, and other harmful but adaptive contact gradually takes over. It is no wonder that action of any kind becomes scarce and the erstwhile doers find safety in resisting unpromising efforts.......such companies have generally more time than others to accumulate and institutionalise dysfunctions, and their people are most cynical about reform attempts...... employees of such companies bear a passing resemblance to the "organisational man" of 1950s sociology and literary fiction. In the post- war era, when US corporations dominated the domestic markets and enjoyed stable market shares, personal initiative and risk-taking were understandably seen as disruptive rather than opportunity seeking......problems develop gradually as a company grows, to a series of well intended but badly implemented organisational changes one upon another. Passive aggressive organisations are, therefore, most commonly large, complex enterprises whose seeds of resistance were often sown when they were much smaller......the additional layers make it difficult for people in the organisation to understand who bears responsibility for specific results. Some managers become reluctant to make decisions, and others won't own up to the ones they made, inviting colleagues to second-guess or overturn them. An already passive aggressive organisation grows increasingly so as its people become more certain of the acceptability of such conduct. Resistance becomes entrenched, and failure to deliver on commitments becomes chronic......failure to deliver on commitments becomes acceptable as long as one has a reasonable excuse......regardless of how they arrived where they are, passive aggressive organisations are usually the sum of a series of ad hoc decisions or events that makes sense in the moment, but has the effect of gradually blurring decision rights. Other times such shot gun arrangements outlive their individual rationales, and the organisation loses all messages of coherent overall plan ......unhealthy organisations, where dysfunction is rooted in a fundamental mis-alignment of four basic building blocks of the organisation: incentives or, more broadly speaking, motivators; decision rights; information; and organisational structure. In passive-aggressive organisations, the misalignment generally involves complicated indirection amongst all four, which together conspire to freeze initiatives. ... Ineffective motivators......Passive-aggressive organisations are exceptionally poor at providing evidence, often failing to judge and reward individuals according to their business value to the organisation - or even to distinguish better performance from worse......in some cases, the rewards given to certain job titles seem incommensurate with their functions' overall contribution to the firm. People who expect their efforts to be unrecognised or to be inadequately valued put in just enough effort to stay out of trouble, since they have no reason to believe that any extra effort or initiative will lead to additional rewards or superior results.......Incentive systems communicated to the organisation......is what really matters to upper management. Corporate may send out countless memos about strategy, mission and goals, but management values are embodied in what it is willing to pay or otherwise recognise, which is one reason that the annual e-mail describing how bonuses will be calculated is the one that everybody not only reads but remembers......the job of senior management is to remind everyone else of the reality behind those symbols by connecting each manager's standing within the firm - size of office, size of bonus, access to superiors - to the firm's standing within the marketplace......unclear decision rights.....vaguely defined role to give the occupants "plausible deniability" when things go bad. The problem can always be said to be the responsibility of the next person, who can likewise shift blame elsewhere.......As a consequence, authority becomes fragmented. Where everyone has a say in making a decision, everyone thinks he has the right to stymie or reverse it after it has been made......deadlines don't matter; neither do other units' internal guidelines, since each can be overridden by the other.......Wrong information......employees......are often more interested in learning about what goes on inside the company than about the competitive realities that affect the firm's long-term survival......when in possession of information or knowledge of genuine value, employees of passive-aggressive organisations are reluctant to share it, since doing so frequently benefits the recipient more than the sharer......an organisation already rife with meddling, where many managers find that providing information gives the recipients a pretext to interfere......Misleading structure. Because individuals in passive-aggressive companies often lack clear measures of how they add value, they must instead rely on the organisation chart as a map of relative status - focusing on how many direct reports they have, how many levels away from the CEO they are, or whether their immediate supervisor is a favourite......passive-aggressive organisations are, by definition, uniquely resistant to change and are therefore uniquely difficult to rehabilitate ......managers there have long had the attitude that "this too shall pass" when presented with a change program - and always they have been right..."

Gary L. Neilson et al, 2005

If there is an environment of suppression of dissent, it will work against the change process.


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