Recently, I delivered a workshop on organizational culture. One of the exercises was to come up with a list of what an unhealthy culture looks and feels like. The participants literally filled a wall with flipchart as they had so many responses. They found the exercise ‘therapeutic’ and ‘helpful’ as they said they rarely get to have that kind of conversation in their organizations. They also said that a lot of the challenges either come from or are perpetuated by leaders.

So, in the interest of therapy and helpfulness I will share some of what they came up with here.

If you are a leader wanting to create an unhealthy culture in your organization, do the following 10 things:

  • Tell some of the people some of the information some of the time. This creates uncertainty and builds perceptions of favouritism quickly.
  • Ignore the dynamics between older staff wanting to retain status and newer staff with new ideas. It will all blow over soon when the new ones leave or assimilate and the status quo will remain in place.
  • Sideline anyone who looks different, talks different or has different (AKA weird) ideas.
  • Let the cliques lead. Seriously. Why hassle yourself with what will only lead to power struggles and conflicts probably?! The group that speaks the loudest should have the most say.
  • Maintain a ‘closed door’ approach. Don’t let anyone in unless they have tea and cookies. If you must meet with them, tell them to bring solutions not problems. That way, you will never have to hear about the negative stuff happening in your organization. Phew!
  • Never take a break. There is so much work to be done. Modelling it means that others will also not take a break and everyone will be, well, grumpy. Who needs a happy and productive workplace when there is so much work to be done eh?
  • Take ALL the decisions. Don’t let anyone participate. You’re the boss aren’t you?
  • Be a martyr. Oh yes. The pinnacle of leadership success. That time in your career when you can tell everyone else that no one, and you mean no one, will EVER be able to do your job because you have sacrificed so much. Well, until that bus comes along…
  • Don’t onboard new people. They will find out soon enough what the stories and values are in the organization. Leave them to it. You enjoyed Lord of the Flies didn’t you?
  • Don’t say hello to anyone. Walk toward your office with your eyes down or pretend to be reading something on your phone. And for goodness sake, don’t make eye contact and smile. They will think you like them. We can’t have that.

P.S. If you want to create a HEALTHY organizational culture, do the opposite of all of these things!

Until next time!


This week’s blog was written by Lianne Picot. Lianne is the Executive Director of Peel Leadership Centre, an organization growing leadership and organizational capacity in the non-profit sector. Lianne is passionate about great leadership, storytelling and creating opportunities for transformational learning. Connect with Lianne at

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