The Only 3 Options to Cure a Toxic Team Culture

If you are leading or working in a toxic team culture, there are only 3 cures that you will ultimately be able to choose from to make things better.

Yes, there are thousands of consultants and coaches giving hundreds (if not thousands) of different opinions about what contributes to and affects a workplace environment – but even that plethora of wisdom can be simplified by boiling it all down to three possible cures.


And I learned this when I shared some advice with my daughter…

I was proud of her for getting her very first job out of college with a marketing firm that represented non-profits.  She wants to work on events and fundraising for organizations like Children’s healthcare of Atlanta or the Miracle network… and this allowed her to get her foot in the door and build a resume.


For the first four days of her employment, she out-performed everyone on her team.

She worked late, crushed her projected numbers, and was asked to attend a networking event to discuss advancement after her first week!

And then the fourth day she came home exhausted.

And she had tears fighting to escape her eyes.


In talking with her that evening, she was more than just tired.


Working hard was not the issue.


She felt like the company was taking advantage of the people they were marketing to…

She felt like they were focused on money to the point that they were willing to accost and pressure people who couldn’t afford the requested donations.

She was concerned that their mission and values were not in alignment with hers.


And so, after discussing the important of resilience and dedication, I told her that she was in a system that didn’t fit her values, and that she needed to talk with her team leader.

And I suggested that she really only had three options to move forward…


Turns out that every leader or employee has the same three options.


You can work from within to change the system


You can change yourself to fit into that system


Or you can choose to find and join a different system



1 – change the system


This is the choice that requires the most effort and diplomacy.


When you are in an organization that is comfortable doing things one way, to suggest modifying that behavior – even if it would benefit a majority of people – is hard to successfully navigate.


Egos and are expectations are often entrenched in what was comfortable in the past – or what the leader’s personality dictated as acceptable when the culture was established.


Changing the system requires that you do your homework to show the value of change and the improvement in productivity or profits it would create by accommodating different personalities.  Maybe it would involve modifying and clarifying organizational values and expected behaviors…


Team culture is the single most significant factor in the success of any organization, because no strategy can succeed without it.


But this option demands difficult conversations and a great deal of preparation and massaging of preformed and likely long-standing customs.


2 – change yourself


This may be the easiest… or at least the most convenient.


It involves either reframing your experience to make your workplace responsibilities more palatable… or recognizing that you needed to grow to become a different (hopefully better) version of yourself to do what is required.


People who lack interpersonal skills, or sales skills, or are simply uncomfortable and need the discomfort of a challenge to improve all might see this as the healthy option of the three.


But changing yourself to fit a mold that conflicts with your own personal values will not be possible for long.  Ultimately the lack of alignment with your actions and your morals will force you to choose option one or three ; )


3 – find a new system


As a leader or employee, this is the option that leads to turnover in many organizations.


The reality is the good people leave bad cultures and bad people leave good cultures.


And while it may be necessary to endure a difficult working situation for a while, most people who are uncomfortable ultimately find a way to leave or to get themselves dismissed.


Change can be good – and not every person has the same idea of what work should be.


Sometimes you are doing a person a favor by asking them to take their talents to another team that better fits their strengths and personality.



None of the options are perfect


Regardless of which option you choose – it will likely not be permanent decision.

Your circumstances change, and with those changes in your life come changes in your ability or desire to work in certain situations or with certain demands.


People don’t always leave on bad terms – sometimes life events happen that impact your idea of what is the right system to be a part of…


And sometimes the leadership changes, which changes the system and requires you to adjust.

But these are the three choices.


And at some point, you will likely experience all three…


Your sanity and success will always depend upon you controlling what you can and resolving yourself to always be the best teammate or team leader you can.

Be honest about where you are and what you are feeling.

Then make the choice that fits your circumstances.


If you are an employee who wants to change the system you are in, take the initiative to prepare for and have difficult and honest conversations with your leader.


If you are a leader and want to change the system to build a more positive and productive environment for your people, you may want to grab a copy of RAPID TEAMWORK, an entertaining story that shares how to fix what might be broken in your team culture.


And – just to keep you updated – my daughter tried option 1 for a while… then tried option 2…

But even after being promoted, she had to choose option number 3 a few months later.


Sometimes the allure of a better team culture that aligns with your values usually inspires change.

And if leaders don’t take the initiative or opportunity to do so, their people will…