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Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch

Monday, June 15, 2015   Paul Clement

On May 12th 2015 I attended our sister company’s (AFIMAC) Annual HR and Security Forum where I, as a team member with no experience in HR or security, had the chance to learn tips and techniques for dealing with a variety of situations from leading experts in these fields. One of my favourite seminars of the day was “Leading in and Overcoming Toxic Team Environments” which was presented by the knowledgeable Peggy Brown from Core At Work Inc. Her take on the effects company culture can have on productivity and team performance, not to mention the potential risks that can arise from a toxic environment was a perspective that I had not yet considered in my young career.

Peggy’s presentation did not fail to deliver many insightful points but at the end of the day there was one quote that stuck with me specifically, “culture eats strategy for lunch”. What I think Peggy meant by this was that no matter how defined, impactful, or critical a strategy may be, if the culture within the working team is toxic, then the initiative will be severely delayed or worse, inevitably fail.

I like to think of myself as extremely lucky because I believe that ISB Canada has developed a productive and trusting company culture. I can, however, recall instances where many of the lessons that Peggy presented could have been used to improve the quality of team communication. I have written on company culture before in past blogs and how important it is for the company as a whole. Considering its importance, however, on a team level was an angle that I had not thought of and I found myself asking what I could do better to improve our culture further.

I have admittedly been guilty of stonewalling on occasion either by not giving a project enough of my time or attention, but I never realized the negative domino effect that could result of this sort of action. Stonewalling, (as I learned from Peggy) is one of the major team toxins that diminish trust and team performance on projects, so I have since made myself more aware of this tendency and try to avoid going down that path from the outset. This is only one example of the several team toxins that Peggy spoke about but each can be as detrimental as the next.

Overall it was a great lesson on how to navigate negative communication and it definitely raised my awareness of the potential risks associated with toxic environments. I think every company should be interested in increasing motivation and trust within their workforce because there are so many benefits in promoting a great company culture that you really can’t afford not to. The important thing to remember when dealing with culture is that it is everyone’s responsibility to uphold and manage, not just the manager or the CEO, and at the end of the day the failure to communicate can result in either the success or failure of projects or even long term strategies.