10 micro-behaviours that are culture killers


From employees gatekeeping critical information to people overemphasising their titles or territory, here are some subtle workplace behaviours that could spell trouble for your company culture.

Calling the wrong candidate for an interview. Missing a decimal point in the budget. Accidentally hitting ‘reply-all’ on an email. Small actions can have big consequences.

In the same way, subtle behaviours can significantly impact the culture in your team or organisation. According to a culture study I conducted in partnership with McCrindle Research, which surveyed over 1000 frontline managers, 95 per cent agreed that culture is the outcome of lots of little decisions made over time.

While small decisions can help build great culture, it’s important to also recognise how small, negative behaviours that are left unchecked could potentially undermine it.

Here are ten micro-behaviours that can quietly kill a great culture and some practical strategies you can use to address them early.

1. Evidence-gathering or score-keeping behaviours

When employees feel the need to gather evidence of how they have been wronged or keep score against fellow team members, this is an indicator that trust is fractured.

This behaviour is more focused on defence than support. In these low-trust environments, people are less likely to assume positive intent in the actions of their teammates, and mistakes can quickly become weaponised.

In our research, a lack of trust was identified as the number-one culture killer by managers. When trust is present, team members feel comfortable to admit mistakes, ask for help or acknowledge their weaknesses without fear.

HR action point: Ensure that leaders model and promote timely feedback through ongoing conversations rather than waiting until annual reviews. Encouraging people to give in-the-moment feedback helps prevent people from accumulating their grievances for later.

2. Increasing ‘us and them’ language

In our research, fifty-three per cent of managers said that collaboration and teamwork are the most important ingredients for building a healthy culture at work.

However, when team members start to use divisive rather than inclusive language, it can be an early indicator that lines are being drawn between people and/or departments.

For example, changes initiated by leadership might be communicated as, ‘They told us we have to,’ rather than, ‘We agreed this was the best decision moving forward.’ Or, it could be subtle comments from team members such as, ‘That’s their project,’ rather than, ‘That’s our project.’

When team members begin to place themselves on either side of a line, instead of the same side, it won’t be long before silos and disconnected teams emerge.

Left unchecked, these silos can lead to breakdowns in communication, information sharing and collaboration, and can erode trust in your culture.

HR action point: Emphasise the use of ‘us’ and ‘we’ instead of ‘they’ and ‘them’ language when discussing work, challenges or desired outcomes.

3. The absence of ‘bad ideas’ in team meetings

The strength of a team lies in its diverse views, ideas and opinions. The freedom to share ideas that could be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’ by the group is an important part of fostering a creative and innovative culture.

Healthy dissent or feeling comfortable to share a potentially ‘bad’ idea in team discussions are indicators that team members feel safe to challenge the norms without fear of punishment.

The absence of these ideas in team meetings can be an indicator that the team is drifting towards conformity/groupthink, or lacks the psychological safety necessary for people to contribute to the discussion or challenge a viewpoint.

HR action point: When brainstorming, introduce the idea of ‘plussing’ – that is, when an idea is shared, find ways to have others in the room build on the idea rather than immediately shooting it down or dismissing it.

4. Teams becoming less likely to push back on leaders’ Ideas

Tim Duggan’s book ‘Killer Thinking: How to turn good ideas into brilliant ones’ warns of the potential for the ‘Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion’ (HIPPO) to kill an idea before it has the chance to evolve into a killer idea.

If team members rarely challenge the leader’s ideas, it might be an indicator that there is an unspoken power imbalance affecting how team members contribute, which could be stifling creativity and critical thinking. This is also known as ‘authority bias’.

This could show up as a lack of feedback on a leader’s ideas (even when it’s invited), silence in meetings or passive agreement.

HR action point: Take time to call out the power imbalance that exists when a leader is in the room and help your team by inviting them to share their ideas first. When the leader’s ideas are shared, intentionally invite team members to challenge them and ensure that different opinions are both acknowledged and appreciated.

5. Less direct feedback and more ‘second-hand’ feedback

In our research, over half the managers agreed open communication and feedback is important for creating a healthy culture at work.

Direct feedback, when delivered appropriately, deepens trust and strengthens working relationships. But, when people receive feedback through a third party rather than directly, it can be an early warning sign that there’s a breakdown in communication channels, safety and trust. It’s also possible that these behaviours indicate a lack of necessary skills to deliver tough feedback.

HR action point: Train team members in a clear and common feedback model. This could be something like Anna Carroll’s COIN (Context, Observation, Impact, Next Steps) model. Look for ways to enhance skills through a shared framework and then encourage people to put this into practice by addressing challenges directly.

“When team members begin to place themselves on either side of a line, instead of the same side, it won’t be long before silos and disconnected teams emerge.” – Shane Hatton, author, speaker and culture expert.

6. Closed cliques

It’s virtually impossible to have an organisation where cliques don’t exist. Whether by personality or proximity, certain relationships will be stronger than others.

One in two managers believe that trusting relationships at work are important for building a healthy culture. However, as these relationships form and deepen, they can become closed or exclusive, meaning they refuse to welcome outsiders, external input or challenge. This could lead to potential alienation of other team members, lack of collaboration and even favouritism. 

HR action point: Look for opportunities to introduce ‘outsiders’ into established groups when delegating work. This could be cross-departmental team projects or one-to-one peer mentoring.

Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, suggests an exercise he calls ‘The Usual Suspects’. When a challenge arises, a team member is encouraged to write a list of the top five people they would typically go to for an answer, and then to intentionally seek out people who are not on that list to encourage outside intervention. 

7. Overemphasis on title and territory

More than a third of the managers in our study believe that territorial attitudes contribute to an unhealthy culture in an organisation.

When titles and territory are over-emphasised, organisations are more likely to see power struggles and conflict arise among teams. ‘Information hoarding’ can be a way that departments or leaders maintain power through withholding critical information that may benefit other employees.

There’s also a risk of people becoming ‘gatekeepers’ and preventing access to platforms or resources that enable people to do their job independently as a way of exerting power. Where this emphasis on territory and title exists, it’s also likely that external feedback will be met with hostility as people seek to defend their patch.

Over time, these behaviours can lead to a more hostile and much less collaborative culture.

HR action point: Introduce recognition programs that reward group effort and individual achievement, ensuring that all team members know that both types of contribution are equally valued.

8. Inability to make decisions without meetings

Our research showed 45 per cent of managers believe a lack of accountability is a culture killer. This can often show up in the form of ‘blame diffusion’.

‘Blame diffusion’ is a term used to describe a culture where teams struggle to make important decisions outside of a group meeting, the rationale being that if a group made the decision, no one individual could be blamed if things went wrong.

This behaviour protects individuals at the expense of accountability and slows down the decision-making process.

HR action point: Examine your leadership responses to failure. Are the mistakes of leaders hidden from the broader organisation or talked about openly? Is failure or learning emphasised in the language when mistakes are made? What processes are in place to dissect mistakes that are made and share the learning?

Encourage people to be transparent in their communication about failures and adopt a “fail fast, learn faster” mindset.

“When a challenge arises, a team member is encouraged to write a list of the top five people they would typically go to for an answer, and then to intentionally seek out people who are not on that list to encourage outside intervention.” – Shane Hatton, author, speaker and culture expert.

9. Only celebrating the big wins

A focus only on major achievements can not only demotivate a team, but it also overlooks the importance of daily efforts that contribute to the long-term success of a business.

In our research, nearly half of leaders told us they believe a lack of reward and recognition contributes to an unhealthy culture in an organisation. By taking time to stop and celebrate the small wins along the way, team members are much less likely to feel as though their consistent hard work is going unnoticed.

HR action point: Ensure your reward and recognition programs and team feedback sessions celebrate progress as well as significant outcomes.

10. A constant state of urgency

The pressure to be in a constant state of heightened alertness to respond to immediate needs can lead to more mistakes, lower quality of work and chronic stress, which, in turn, adversely impacts both physical and mental health.

Unclear or unrealistic workload expectations were listed as one of the top-five culture killers by managers in our research. Clear and achievable workload expectations, along with realistic deadlines, are crucial aspects of a healthy work culture.

HR action point: When delegating work, ensure expectations and priorities are communicated clearly upfront and set realistic deadlines which take into account availability of resources.

Long before you find yourself broken down on the side of the road, your car’s ‘check engine’ light warns of potential trouble ahead. In the same way, subtle unproductive workplace behaviours can be a signal of much deeper cultural issues.

By paying close attention to these subtle signals, you can address these issues before they escalate, ensuring you create an environment for your team to truly thrive.


Shane Hatton will be speaking about how to become a trusted leadership voice at AHRI’s National Convention and Exhibition in August. Sign up today to hear from Shane and other experts, including Seth Godin, Dr Pippa Grange and more.


 

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Paula
Paula
17 days ago

Great article!

Michel Loiret
Michel Loiret
15 days ago

HR is becoming more and more ‘micro-managing’ and surreal itself

Carolyn
Carolyn
15 days ago

Spot on with this one. Very relatable. Thanks.

Greg Rowe
Greg Rowe
10 days ago

Very pertinent to our current culture.

More on HRM
Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.

10 micro-behaviours that are culture killers


From employees gatekeeping critical information to people overemphasising their titles or territory, here are some subtle workplace behaviours that could spell trouble for your company culture.

Calling the wrong candidate for an interview. Missing a decimal point in the budget. Accidentally hitting ‘reply-all’ on an email. Small actions can have big consequences.

In the same way, subtle behaviours can significantly impact the culture in your team or organisation. According to a culture study I conducted in partnership with McCrindle Research, which surveyed over 1000 frontline managers, 95 per cent agreed that culture is the outcome of lots of little decisions made over time.

While small decisions can help build great culture, it’s important to also recognise how small, negative behaviours that are left unchecked could potentially undermine it.

Here are ten micro-behaviours that can quietly kill a great culture and some practical strategies you can use to address them early.

1. Evidence-gathering or score-keeping behaviours

When employees feel the need to gather evidence of how they have been wronged or keep score against fellow team members, this is an indicator that trust is fractured.

This behaviour is more focused on defence than support. In these low-trust environments, people are less likely to assume positive intent in the actions of their teammates, and mistakes can quickly become weaponised.

In our research, a lack of trust was identified as the number-one culture killer by managers. When trust is present, team members feel comfortable to admit mistakes, ask for help or acknowledge their weaknesses without fear.

HR action point: Ensure that leaders model and promote timely feedback through ongoing conversations rather than waiting until annual reviews. Encouraging people to give in-the-moment feedback helps prevent people from accumulating their grievances for later.

2. Increasing ‘us and them’ language

In our research, fifty-three per cent of managers said that collaboration and teamwork are the most important ingredients for building a healthy culture at work.

However, when team members start to use divisive rather than inclusive language, it can be an early indicator that lines are being drawn between people and/or departments.

For example, changes initiated by leadership might be communicated as, ‘They told us we have to,’ rather than, ‘We agreed this was the best decision moving forward.’ Or, it could be subtle comments from team members such as, ‘That’s their project,’ rather than, ‘That’s our project.’

When team members begin to place themselves on either side of a line, instead of the same side, it won’t be long before silos and disconnected teams emerge.

Left unchecked, these silos can lead to breakdowns in communication, information sharing and collaboration, and can erode trust in your culture.

HR action point: Emphasise the use of ‘us’ and ‘we’ instead of ‘they’ and ‘them’ language when discussing work, challenges or desired outcomes.

3. The absence of ‘bad ideas’ in team meetings

The strength of a team lies in its diverse views, ideas and opinions. The freedom to share ideas that could be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’ by the group is an important part of fostering a creative and innovative culture.

Healthy dissent or feeling comfortable to share a potentially ‘bad’ idea in team discussions are indicators that team members feel safe to challenge the norms without fear of punishment.

The absence of these ideas in team meetings can be an indicator that the team is drifting towards conformity/groupthink, or lacks the psychological safety necessary for people to contribute to the discussion or challenge a viewpoint.

HR action point: When brainstorming, introduce the idea of ‘plussing’ – that is, when an idea is shared, find ways to have others in the room build on the idea rather than immediately shooting it down or dismissing it.

4. Teams becoming less likely to push back on leaders’ Ideas

Tim Duggan’s book ‘Killer Thinking: How to turn good ideas into brilliant ones’ warns of the potential for the ‘Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion’ (HIPPO) to kill an idea before it has the chance to evolve into a killer idea.

If team members rarely challenge the leader’s ideas, it might be an indicator that there is an unspoken power imbalance affecting how team members contribute, which could be stifling creativity and critical thinking. This is also known as ‘authority bias’.

This could show up as a lack of feedback on a leader’s ideas (even when it’s invited), silence in meetings or passive agreement.

HR action point: Take time to call out the power imbalance that exists when a leader is in the room and help your team by inviting them to share their ideas first. When the leader’s ideas are shared, intentionally invite team members to challenge them and ensure that different opinions are both acknowledged and appreciated.

5. Less direct feedback and more ‘second-hand’ feedback

In our research, over half the managers agreed open communication and feedback is important for creating a healthy culture at work.

Direct feedback, when delivered appropriately, deepens trust and strengthens working relationships. But, when people receive feedback through a third party rather than directly, it can be an early warning sign that there’s a breakdown in communication channels, safety and trust. It’s also possible that these behaviours indicate a lack of necessary skills to deliver tough feedback.

HR action point: Train team members in a clear and common feedback model. This could be something like Anna Carroll’s COIN (Context, Observation, Impact, Next Steps) model. Look for ways to enhance skills through a shared framework and then encourage people to put this into practice by addressing challenges directly.

“When team members begin to place themselves on either side of a line, instead of the same side, it won’t be long before silos and disconnected teams emerge.” – Shane Hatton, author, speaker and culture expert.

6. Closed cliques

It’s virtually impossible to have an organisation where cliques don’t exist. Whether by personality or proximity, certain relationships will be stronger than others.

One in two managers believe that trusting relationships at work are important for building a healthy culture. However, as these relationships form and deepen, they can become closed or exclusive, meaning they refuse to welcome outsiders, external input or challenge. This could lead to potential alienation of other team members, lack of collaboration and even favouritism. 

HR action point: Look for opportunities to introduce ‘outsiders’ into established groups when delegating work. This could be cross-departmental team projects or one-to-one peer mentoring.

Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, suggests an exercise he calls ‘The Usual Suspects’. When a challenge arises, a team member is encouraged to write a list of the top five people they would typically go to for an answer, and then to intentionally seek out people who are not on that list to encourage outside intervention. 

7. Overemphasis on title and territory

More than a third of the managers in our study believe that territorial attitudes contribute to an unhealthy culture in an organisation.

When titles and territory are over-emphasised, organisations are more likely to see power struggles and conflict arise among teams. ‘Information hoarding’ can be a way that departments or leaders maintain power through withholding critical information that may benefit other employees.

There’s also a risk of people becoming ‘gatekeepers’ and preventing access to platforms or resources that enable people to do their job independently as a way of exerting power. Where this emphasis on territory and title exists, it’s also likely that external feedback will be met with hostility as people seek to defend their patch.

Over time, these behaviours can lead to a more hostile and much less collaborative culture.

HR action point: Introduce recognition programs that reward group effort and individual achievement, ensuring that all team members know that both types of contribution are equally valued.

8. Inability to make decisions without meetings

Our research showed 45 per cent of managers believe a lack of accountability is a culture killer. This can often show up in the form of ‘blame diffusion’.

‘Blame diffusion’ is a term used to describe a culture where teams struggle to make important decisions outside of a group meeting, the rationale being that if a group made the decision, no one individual could be blamed if things went wrong.

This behaviour protects individuals at the expense of accountability and slows down the decision-making process.

HR action point: Examine your leadership responses to failure. Are the mistakes of leaders hidden from the broader organisation or talked about openly? Is failure or learning emphasised in the language when mistakes are made? What processes are in place to dissect mistakes that are made and share the learning?

Encourage people to be transparent in their communication about failures and adopt a “fail fast, learn faster” mindset.

“When a challenge arises, a team member is encouraged to write a list of the top five people they would typically go to for an answer, and then to intentionally seek out people who are not on that list to encourage outside intervention.” – Shane Hatton, author, speaker and culture expert.

9. Only celebrating the big wins

A focus only on major achievements can not only demotivate a team, but it also overlooks the importance of daily efforts that contribute to the long-term success of a business.

In our research, nearly half of leaders told us they believe a lack of reward and recognition contributes to an unhealthy culture in an organisation. By taking time to stop and celebrate the small wins along the way, team members are much less likely to feel as though their consistent hard work is going unnoticed.

HR action point: Ensure your reward and recognition programs and team feedback sessions celebrate progress as well as significant outcomes.

10. A constant state of urgency

The pressure to be in a constant state of heightened alertness to respond to immediate needs can lead to more mistakes, lower quality of work and chronic stress, which, in turn, adversely impacts both physical and mental health.

Unclear or unrealistic workload expectations were listed as one of the top-five culture killers by managers in our research. Clear and achievable workload expectations, along with realistic deadlines, are crucial aspects of a healthy work culture.

HR action point: When delegating work, ensure expectations and priorities are communicated clearly upfront and set realistic deadlines which take into account availability of resources.

Long before you find yourself broken down on the side of the road, your car’s ‘check engine’ light warns of potential trouble ahead. In the same way, subtle unproductive workplace behaviours can be a signal of much deeper cultural issues.

By paying close attention to these subtle signals, you can address these issues before they escalate, ensuring you create an environment for your team to truly thrive.


Shane Hatton will be speaking about how to become a trusted leadership voice at AHRI’s National Convention and Exhibition in August. Sign up today to hear from Shane and other experts, including Seth Godin, Dr Pippa Grange and more.


 

Subscribe to receive comments
Notify me of
guest

4 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
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Paula
Paula
17 days ago

Great article!

Michel Loiret
Michel Loiret
15 days ago

HR is becoming more and more ‘micro-managing’ and surreal itself

Carolyn
Carolyn
15 days ago

Spot on with this one. Very relatable. Thanks.

Greg Rowe
Greg Rowe
10 days ago

Very pertinent to our current culture.

Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.
More on HRM