Dysfunctional Culture: The Underlying Causes You Are Missing


In the medical world, germs lead to symptoms that can lead to serious diseases, even death.

Dysfunction in the workplace culture can be a lot like germs and can require some disinfectant. Some basic human tendencies can lead to symptoms such as disengagement, poor communication, and a “bad attitude.” And that sometimes leads to perfectly good employees leaving their place of employment, or worse; employees may quit and stay. 

How can we avoid that?



The root of most behavioral dysfunction is pride. I’m not talking about the kind of satisfaction you have when you see your kids do something spectacular. That’s love.

This kind of pride puffs up your ego. If left unchecked, pride can cut off all communication with those around you. Pride generates justification of our behaviors even if they are wrong. For example, if someone comes to correct you about something, pride doesn’t want to listen. It wants to argue that you didn’t do anything wrong. It is more interested in who is right and less concerned about what is right.


Not sharing with others creates a cold culture around you.

Conversely, when people hold what they have loosely and share with others, whether that is information, time, or supplies, it produces a warm and inviting culture. It also influences other people to become more like that. It rubs off on others, and before you know it, you have a culture of care and respect.

Selfishness is a close relative of pride. A selfish person’s focus is on self, their own importance, and their need to be right. It prevents us from being able to focus on others, what is best for others, what is right.


Closely related to pride, Dictionary.com defines arrogance as an “offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride.” Arrogance and pride result in harshly lashing out to others when confronted. Arrogance drives us to “need” to be right at all costs. The cost is usually the destruction of others around us.

The opposite of arrogance and pride is humility.

A humble leader is one who is respectful and listens to ideas without cutting anyone down for sharing them. They consider that there are people around them who know more about a topic than they do, or simply have another way of looking at things. That is the reason a leader hires talented individuals; to add a well-roundedness to the knowledge and skills needed to complete their team.


Symptoms are the behaviors seen in the work environment, such as:

  • Not sharing
  • Gossiping
  • Not working together
  • Withholding information
  • Lying
  • Blaming others
  • Accusing others
  • Withdrawing and refusing to listen to others
  • Putting our wants and needs before others
  • Assuming the worse in others
  • Applying negative intent to others but wanting themselves to be judged on positive intent

One person can infect a large group of people. Like germs, they spread rapidly.

A complainer or gossiper can usually lead at least a few others into the mix. Before you know it, the whole group is suffering from circulated misinformation. People start to think of false assumptions about others. Or they stop talking to one person because of X, Y, or Z. It sounds very much like middle school. Adults have learned to add finesse to the same old principles.


When these types of unaddressed behaviors arise, people start to think negatively about their work environment. Given enough time, it leads to disengagement.

Because many work in teams of people, negativity affects more than one person. According to the Gallup Organization, over 70% of employees state they are disengaged or actively disengaged. 

You don’t have to lose ideal employees to dysfunction.


A proactive leader, fully aware of the human tendency to sometimes latch onto pessimism, can curtail much of the negativity, by shedding light on the truth. Once again, communication takes the spotlight.

A Servant Leader understands the significant role they play in the workplace culture and the impact they have on employee engagement.

You’ve seen the people who know how to spin plates on those flimsy sticks. Their eyes are always looking around to see which dish is losing momentum. If not tended to, what happens?

The plate falls and breaks. 

Maybe you feel like you’re constantly spinning plates, trying to keep them from falling. The work involved in keeping your team cohesive is worth the effort. The payoff is that you have a dynamic group, better relationships, and tons of savings for the company.

By the way, the person in that picture: they are not hovering overhead. They are underneath the plates making sure they are supported. The above illustration is a picture of a good leader. Ignore one employee; they may start making untrue assumptions and fall.

Your company’s culture can go from germ-infested dysfunction to a healthy and thriving environment. 

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