37 Warning Signs Your Culture Is Heading Down the Wrong Path

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A great company culture is obvious: it just works. Projects get done, and people are happy to be there. There’s an energy in the air that invites productivity and participation, and even if it’s not perfect, it’s at least a place where everyone feels comfortable.  

It’s far harder, we think, to diagnose and treat exactly what’s gone wrong in a culture “gone wrong.”

Since we’ve written extensively on the 10 core qualities of a good culture — what it looks like and how to define it — today we’re going to look at what these qualities look like when a culture goes awry.


We define collaboration as an environment in which people cooperate, share, and work well together. When that’s not happening….

  • Employees prefer to work independently (even when there are collaboration opportunities available)
  • When employees have to work in a group, they have difficulty dividing an assignment equally
  • Employees form cliques where some individuals actively sabotage each other


In an innovative culture, companies encourage new ideas, and individuals are able to move ideas through the organization. When a culture doesn’t encourage innovation…

  • Leaders and teams respond to most new ideas by saying, “Well, we’ve always done it this way…”
  • New employees learn within a few months that their ideas aren’t going to go anywhere, extinguishing the flame of innovation within them
  • Brainstorming sessions are infrequent or nonexistent


Agile companies respond and adapt to opportunities. In stuck companies…

  • Organizations get stumped by new customer problems and miss out on new opportunities
  • Organizations don’t hop on board emerging technology in their field, which means they don’t always offer a cutting-edge approach to their customer’s problem
  • Organizations keep the same customer and solve the same problem for them in the same way since the business started


Communication-friendly cultures support employees sending, receiving, and understanding necessary information. In non-communicative cultures…

  • Employees silo information because they think it’s a risk to share it
  • Employees feel they have to protect their projects and insights from coworkers who might use those tools against them
  • There’s no sense of two-way communication — employees may not send or respond to emails or phone calls promptly because they believe their information won’t be received
  • Employees feel confused about where to get the information they need — it’s either nowhere to be found, or conflicting information is available in too many places


In supportive company cultures, people provide each other with the resources and guidance they need to be successful and have confidence in company leadership. When employees don’t feel supported…

  • Team members don’t want to bring problems to leadership, and they play a game in which the last person to bring it up wins
  • No one goes out of their way to help others because the general philosophy is, “I’m here to do the job I’m paid for”
  • Employees fear failure because they know their leadership team will leave them high and dry to find a solution


Companies with the policies and resources to help people maintain physical and mental health score well in wellness. Without wellness, however…

  • Employees feel chained to their desk all day and pressured to work non-stop
  • Onsite company perks only cover traditional junk food like donuts and coffee, even if the team struggles with weight loss or prefers to maintain a healthy lifestyle
  • Employees have nowhere to safely walk during a break
  • Employees display some of the signs of chronic stress explained here

Work Environment

Companies with excellent work environments provide employees with a comfortable workplace where people have the resources to be effective in their work. Here’s what  a bad work environment looks like:

  • The space that lacks flexibility or input from your team (because even if you have a well-stocked fridge and yoga room, it might actually be the wrong environment for your team if it doesn’t meet their unique needs and working styles)
  • Employees don’t use common spaces
  • Employees frequently complain about noise during phone calls
  • Conference rooms are often left unclean and disorderly
  • Employees are experiencing physical pain or stress from the workplace set up


In a productive company culture, employees are accountable for their actions and have the independence to make decisions regarding their work. In cultures that don’t prioritize responsibility…

  • Managers micro-manage
  • Projects are left incomplete or finished late because there is a diffusion of responsibility amongst the team
  • Co-workers nitpick decisions and stymie other workers from moving forward with ideas
  • Just about everyone thinks they need approval before they take a single step forward

Performance Focus

When a company culture has a performance focus, people know what determines success in their role, and they are rewarded or recognized for achievements. When a company culture doesn’t focus on performance…

  • There’s a lot of confusion during goal-setting meetings, because no one knows what their ultimate goal should be
  • Some employees pull more weight than others, and everyone knows it
  • It’s difficult for management to recognize any one employee because it seems like everyone is working to maintain the status quo — not achieve above and beyond results
  • Accomplishments and contributions regularly go unrecognized

Mission and Value Alignment

In a culture that’s aligned with the mission and values of the company, people know, understand, and believe in the company’s mission and values. Your company’s mission might be off if…

  • Managers and individuals have trouble making decisions without a lot of feedback, which shows a misalignment or a lack of clarity in what the company actually values and what it’s trying to achieve
  • Leadership teams have to double-check managerial decisions to make sure they align with company mission and values
  • Employees push back against policies that the leadership team sees as reasonable
  • Disciplinary issues revolve around poor or immoral decision-making

Did anything pop out at you as you read? If you’re like us, it became more and more obvious how these “core qualities gone wrong” can stack up to create a dangerously toxic environment. And each core quality that slips away makes it harder and harder to develop a culture that works. That’s why it’s so important to track each quality over time to see which are getting better and which aren’t — that way you can take specific, proactive steps to tweak each quality until it meets your goals.

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