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A Toxic Work Culture Transformed: Finding the Innovator in You!

Looking back to summer 2015, I was experiencing profound change at work. I was starting to train who was to become my full-time replacement. I’ve always felt as an innovator, and working with a Newsroom team of over 60 people focused on meeting deadlines changed me forever. Being part of a team requires a specific mindset. A productive team environment requires patience and consistency in the approach that builds and establishes practical workflows for an organization.

At the time, my accountabilities in the newsroom included managing computer systems and digital media storage frameworks. My responsibilities were changing, since a few weeks before summer started, I‘d been offered a new role within the organization. My career in the communication Industry spans for more than 20 years. I’ve had the pleasure of leading teams along the way, making this new role, a challenge I felt comfortable with.

So, the real challenge of my new role was to coalesce a team, and create synergy within a high-paced, live TV environment. I was now officially in charge of 3 divisions within the News Department. I was responsible for leading several teams of nearly 25 people in total, while managing multiple media data and storage systems that supported the department’s day-to-day functions. I was ready to go, so I did. My first day in this new role was exciting at best. Anyway, it’s live TV we’re talking about. I was establishing my tenure as a leader; but I was not content with this idea alone, I wanted more…I wanted to give more. The first hurdle I needed to overcome, was the established work culture forces within the organization. From my experience, when the culture is not conducive to support institutional change, resistance ultimately disrupts the process. I was all about practical, time and money saving innovations.

For a few weeks, I studied and reviewed the principles of leadership and management within the organization. I evaluated and moved to optimize the system’s functionality, to support team performances. I believe that a single-minded focus approach within a team, can strongly influence all other levels of an organization. How? Together with consistency and time, an effective workflow, supported by open communication will transmit the single-minded team approach across to other divisions and company departments. Primarily, this allows other members of the management team to observe the effectiveness of each team’s workflow. Having multiple divisions assigned to me within the same department, allowed me to incentivize each team according to their needs, and accountabilities. This aided significantly employee satisfaction, and team productivity to meet departmental goals without added burnout.

After procedural changes are introduced into an organization, workforce resistance or compliance can take place. Each response has its set of unique forces guiding them. Initially, I was met with high resistance by both my team and other department managers. I was not surprised, and as I dug deeper, I identified the hidden cause behind this resistance. The strong finding was what I was working for, and it was congruent with the three aspects I’d been observing within the organization: psychology, communication, and employee performance. I approached these three dimensions as my framework for improvement to employees relation to organizational and system changes.

I continued to observe, interview, and collect data more data to support my framework. As I progressed with my analysis, I noticed that senior employees within my team (5 Plus years on the job), had a particular way of seeing the work environment. Basically, their belief supported the idea that “work culture environment could not improve,” because, “this is how it’s always been here.” This was an important pattern to address and change in order to improve not only employee satisfaction but also team performance. I believe a happy employee is a productive and creative employee. Furthermore, as I completed interviews with all the members in my team, I concluded that overall, employees saw their work cultural environment as being toxic.

Members of the organization had become accustomed to this environment because they truly believed “this is how it’s always been.” I was amazed by how strongly some of my team members believed these statements. Personal mindsets is what makes change difficult in an organization. Regardless, I was not ready to give up. I knew the employees core reasons opposing my new implementations. Guiding my team towards resolution was my next step. It has always been easier to effect change when individuals willingly accept change because this increases their level of hope for the future. Rather than, forcing change upon them which strongly diminishes hope.

“What had happened to the members of my team that drove them to feel and believe a work culture had to be this way?” I was looking for patterns, if any, that were perpetuating the established work culture environment. I spent a few weeks meeting with each members of the management team. We evaluated all the workflow that involved my three divisions. What we found through these meetings, was an interesting set of symptoms that were mounting pressure by off-loading one team responsibilities onto other teams. I recognized the following behaviors perpetuating the work culture:

1) Lack of clear departmental workflow guidelines.

2) Clear definitions for all technical responsibilities and accountabilities for each division.

3) Management’s lack of communication and ‘open’ listening to employee based ideas, suggestions, and improvements.

I immediately began to sort and define my division’s responsibilities within the organization. Once I completed this task, I distributed my teams’ guidelines to other managers. This created a strong response from the managers and directors who now had to update their standard operational procedures as well. Interestingly, after weeks of implementation and training, it became clear that the “it’s always been this way” mentality shared a large number of senior staff, was highly correlated with other divisions ‘off-loading’ of responsibilities onto other teams. For years, these additional responsibilities were ‘pushed’ down from one division onto another without proper job description or financial compensation., this makes morale low. This was a strong finding that effectively helped move the organization’s work culture towards a constructive environment supported by accountability, transparency, joy, and strong team principles. I was content with the long-term results we’d accomplished. Productivity and employee satisfaction rose year-after-year until my tenure ended in late 2017.

In conclusion, work environments reflect the habits of the past, the strengths and weaknesses of the present, and the possibilities for the future. Always contribute with a constructive perspective that supports your organization’s growth. Also, openly engage your talents to help your team grow and achieve goals. You’ll be surprised how detailed observation, support, and a mindful approach to management, will elevate your organizations work culture and performance.


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