Being in a toxic work environment can be extremely damaging to your productivity and satisfaction with your work. You’re stressed before you even get to work, you’re constantly defensive and on high-alert, and you can’t relax when you get home because you’re replaying everything that happened that day.
The symptoms of a toxic workplace are ugly:
- A persistent sense of insecurity and fear
- Lack of transparency and communication
- Conflict between employees
- Emotionally-charged arguments
This kind of toxicity doesn’t just appear overnight. It seeps into companies over time, starting out with small slip-ups that take on a life of their own, like nasty gremlins that got out of their box. Learning how to fix a toxic work environment pours sunlight on the nastiness and helps everyone get back to doing their best work.
If you’re the leader of the company or team that’s struggling, make this your ONE Thing. If you need to justify your position, consider that interpersonal aggression costs companies over $6 billion every year, so you’re really doing the company a big favor.
And if you’re part of a toxic team, step up. Change starts with individuals, so even if you think it’s not your job to fix it, it’s on you to learn how to fix a toxic work environment. It might not be your fault, but it is your responsibility.
How to Fix A Toxic Work Environment: 3 Key Strategies
Reports on organizational culture have found that transparency within the company is Priority One for maintaining happy, engaged employees.
When there’s a culture of transparency, people feel valued, trusted and part of something greater than themselves. That’s a powerful state of mind to put people in, and it starts with creating a shared reality.
The simplest thing you can do to promote transparency is to get everyone in the same room on a weekly basis.
Review your key metrics and major events (good and bad), invite questions, and respond with honest answers.
Open a clear line of communication between everyone in the company — encourage the team to share problems or roadblocks they’re facing to ensure that conflict and miscommunications are addressed quickly. Try practicing Radical Candor together. This alone can transform the culture.
Ideally, the leadership team will also be present and accessible to the team every day. If an office door is closed, it should only be because that person is working on a time block for their ONE Thing — not because they’re avoiding people or hoarding information.This open access helps people to feel confident that everyone’s in it together and that everyone is contributing.
Creating a shared sense of mission and values can have a drastic impact on the culture of a team. When everyone understands and supports what the team is working toward, it helps people stop being selfish and fearful. A shared vision creates clarity and confidence.
Building transparency is one of the fastest ways to create a shared vision that everyone on the team can get behind. Share the long-term goals the leadership has for the business, and then invite the team to examine and improve those goals. This structured collaboration fosters trust (both up and down the chain of command), which in turn leads to greater innovation and action.
Once you’ve got a shared vision, you can get to work making sure that the culture is fully recovered — and that it stays that way.
The most effective way to build shared vision and values is to create a Culture Book. This idea was popularized by Zappos, the ecommerce giant. They realized that maintaining a healthy culture became a challenge as more people joined the company, and decided to get buy-in from every single employee to keep things positive. Gaming company Valve and investing firm The Motley Fool have created similar Culture Books.
To create a Culture Book, invite each of your employees to write up their view of the company’s culture, and what that means to them. Have them get into the details of why things work, as well as focusing on the personal progress they’ve been able to make inside this culture. Then distribute the collection to everyone on your team to keep this focus front and center (and give it to new employees too, to set their expectations).
This process does two important things:
- Focuses the team on positive parts of the culture
- Creates a commitment from each team member to upholding those positive elements. People are more likely to behave well when they’ve spoken or written about those shared positive values (because we all like to avoid cognitive dissonance).
The ONE Thing
Developing clarity about what’s important for the company (and the people who work in it) is key when you’re working out how to fix a toxic workplace. Knowing the company’s ONE Thing is critical to creating both transparency and a shared vision and values.
When the company has its ONE Thing to focus on, that goal becomes a ‘North Star’ to guide every decision. It helps the company to focus on serving the right customers, hiring the right people, and working on the right projects.
When everyone in leadership knows their ONE Thing, they can prioritize and lead their teams effectively. They can keep their team focused on moving the big rocks, tackling projects that will make a meaningful contribution to the company’s ONE Thing.
When every employee knows their ONE Thing, they can bring their A-game every day. They can focus on the tasks that really matter, and feel like they’re constantly making tangible progress towards the team’s goals (and towards the company’s goals).
People will find it easier to cooperate, knowing that their teammates are working towards the same goals. They’ll find it easier to say no to distractions, because getting distracted lets the team down.
Now that you know how to fix a toxic work environment, it’s time to actually get on and do it. Change starts with the individual, so if your company culture is really sick, make this your ONE Thing (even if you think it should be someone else’s job).
You’ve got a great opportunity to turn the business around, and to make a real difference in the lives of everyone on your team.
Start with transparency — this lays the groundwork for everything else. Once you’ve got transparency nailed, use that to create a shared vision for the company, and shared values to shape the team’s behavior. Once the team is working cohesively again, you can start drilling down to The ONE Thing at each level of the organization, and watch the culture transform in time to a powerful force for good.
Need some help and accountability to bring this kind of change to your business? Get our Relationships Guide for some powerful guidance and to start getting extra insights from The ONE Thing team.