Candid Organizational Cultures Thrive (Part I)

by Rick Forbus, Ph.D.

The lack of candidness is an issue in many organizations. Actually it is an obstacle to having open, honest, and healthily divergent group discussions.

Why are people that work together resistant to being open with each other in the workplace?

I asked some of the team I was coaching in an international company why this was such an issue. The answers were various but contained similarities. The team said these things were the indicators of a lack of candidness:

  • Their personal relationships were more important than real openness to job-related weakness and improvement.
  • In meetings, a functional team leader normally did not allow for open discussions so everyone just sat back listened and left the meeting.
  • Because of a need to become ascendant, many withhold anything that could expose them as vulnerable or ill informed.
  • Conflict avoidance has been practiced to a fault in the organization.

Candid can mean:

  • Frank
  • Honest
  • Open
  • Truthful
  • Sincere
  • Blunt
  • Outspoken
  • Forthright
  • Straightforward
  • Upfront

Openness is essentially the willingness to grow distaste for ruts, eagerly standing on tiptoe for a better view of what tomorrow brings. A man once bought a new radio, brought it home, placed it on the refrigerator, plugged it in, turned it to WSM in Nashville (home of the Grand Ole Opry), and then pulled all the knobs off! He had already tuned in all he ever wanted or expected to hear. Some marriages are ‘rutted’ and rather dreary because either or both partners have yielded to the tyranny of the inevitable, ‘what has been will still be.’ Stay open to newness. Stay open to change.   Unknown Author

In our work at Trove, Inc. with organizational teams, we use a couple of assessments to better define the “corporate personality” of the enterprise. Without implying anything too clinical, we certainly measure work team personalities that are passive aggressive in functionality. When these personalities are expressed in meetings and decision-making activities, an organization can become incapacitated with behaviors that are much like passive aggressive.

Passive aggressive personality disorder is a condition in which a person seems to actively comply with the desires and needs of others, but actually passively resists them. In their practice, the person becomes increasingly hostile and angry.

A client recently described the culture and her feelings just like this definition. Not to overstate this cultural condition, but, as a development company we assess, coach and train in organizations that resemble this “disorder” evidentially. Corporate symptoms could be:

A resentment of responsibility and showing it through collective behaviors, rather than, by openly expressing their feelings. These organizations often use procrastination, inefficiency, and “forgetfulness” to avoid doing what they need to do, corporately. 

Some common symptoms of passive aggressive personality disorder include:

  • Acting sullen
  • Avoiding responsibility by claiming forgetfulness
  • Being inefficient on purpose
  • Blaming others
  • Complaining
  • Feeling resentment
  • Having a fear of authority
  • Having unexpressed anger or hostility
  • Procrastinating

Although no organization contains all of these “symptoms,” many guarded and resistant cultures exhibit some of these. What is interesting is that because of the “under ground” behaviors it becomes difficult to convene teams to examine these and to work to overcome them. In other words, the team will know that these team behaviors exist, but because the culture has reset its practices to passive aggressive the beginning attempts at diagnoses and prescriptive action is very difficult.

One organization that we have worked in for years seems to practice these passive aggressive behaviors no matter the training or coaching. They individually complain about how the culture never seems to get functional. Yet, when it comes to interactions in meetings, strategic planning discussions or teamwork, these passive behaviors overrule their known leadership competencies. How do individuals and organizations overcome these damaging and unproductive practices? There is no easy way to overcome a reluctant culture that has stagnated through conflict avoidance and low-risk behaviors. Some organizational leaders are not aware that ROI or profitability is hindered. Others, in government or non-profit work forget that effectiveness or ROE (Return on Effectiveness) is slowed, if not stopped.

A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason. Let us…always reveal with utmost honesty our real reasons for all that we do.     Unknown

If you found these tips from Rick Forbus, PH.D. of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in his self-paced, downloadable courses at PDUs2Go.com.

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