How To Fix A Toxic Culture? Dilute It!
A number of years ago there came to light a scientific case study called “The Dilution Effect”
It posited that an increase in species to create a greater biodiversity could greatly reduce the risk of Lyme disease in humans. Thus, generating a broader spectrum across an ecosystem could prevent the environment that allows Lyme to reside and infect ticks that spread the disease.
While the research is still being done to prove this study, there is a laboratory where dilution can help mitigate a toxic environment. The workplace.
A toxic culture is usually the presence of counter-cultural individuals and/or teams within an organization that threaten to poison the current environment.
While many times the wisdom is to prune and remove these individuals it is more necessary to replace them and grow the organization with those who are more pure with the work culture you are promoting.
There are times when you need to separate or allow attrition to remove toxic people from your company. This is vital to ensure the culture stays intact and is not corrupted. Yet even more important is to replace them with people who are closely aligned with your core values and culture and will keep the culture intact. Otherwise you will run the risk of introducing toxic behaviors and attitudes and return to the same, or worse, state that you were originally in.
Another steps is to continue to hire and grow the organization with people who are more closely congruent with your culture, creating a larger and larger dynamic that can minimize the toxic impact of others. In some cases, as I have discovered in my own leadership career, gaining a broader base of employees who are culturally instep can actually change some peoples’ toxic behaviors into champions of the culture – a kind of FOMO (fear of missing out) workplace transformation.
Think about it this way. You have a beaker of pure water and introduce a drop of raw sewage into it. That pure water is tainted and now needs a larger influx of pure water to flush out the sewage and mitigate the harm done by the impure substance. This represents lessening the impact of toxic individuals by replacing them with more culturally sound people.
In addition, you can also dump the beaker and refill it with pure water, akin to removing the toxic individual.
The premise is simple but you need to exercise discernment in keeping those who are culture champions engaged as you build around them, and not replacing them as well. This is a challenge to keeping the right mixture and balance in your organization of tenured people who have grown the culture and newer, culturally-aligned individuals graft in sometime later. Having the right focus on building complimentary teams and creating harmony and engagement adds to the equation, so keeping this in mind is vital to growing the culture without dividing it inadvertently.