Culture and Business People Arm Wrestling

A dysfunctional culture can doom your organization to mediocrity or outright failure. How can you tell if you should be worried?

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” ~Peter Drucker

We often see a sports team that seems to have a great pool of individual talent, yet it can’t seem to win consistently and fails to get very far in the playoffs. Then we have the underdog team that surprises everyone with a playoff run, sometimes even taking the top prize.

The difference between winning and losing in business is often the ability of the group to come together as a team. Once dysfunction sets into a business culture, it becomes nearly impossible to excel.

The Story Continues

It was a bit of a surprise to outsiders when Steve’s LinkedIn profile changed. It seemed like the business was doing well. But after three years in business, Steve had quietly shut the doors.

Steve started the business with Allan. Steve was the CEO and a technical genius. Allan had the sales skills and connections to make things happen. Together they were able to quickly grow the business adding 30 employees in the first two years.

But in addition to the problems discussed in “When Do Your Strongest Success Traits Make You Codependent?” there were some other issues brewing.

The company was unable to hire any people who could come close to the experience or understanding of Steve. So Steve became the go-to person for all the tough problems the technical teams faced. Steve didn’t have the time to train other technical staff. Even worse, deep down he was afraid that if he did they would go out and compete against him.

Allan was bringing in enough business to keep the growing company fed due to the reputation of Steve to pull projects through to success, his drive, and his ability to add value in the sales process. Then he ran into some personal problems in year two and had to withdraw from the business to deal with them.

Steve could not shoulder the burden of both sales and delivery. After a yearlong struggle, he realized his employees were making more than he was by far and the outlook was not improving. So he shut the doors and re-entered the workforce.

Both Steve and Allan were left with substantial debt as they had personally financed the growth of the company.


The Importance of Culture

Losing a business is a traumatic experience for everyone, including the employees who lose their jobs.

Organizations are more than just the cumulative talents, skills, and work of a group of individuals. The people in a great business work together as a cohesive team with a distinct culture. The impact is far greater than the individuals could produce on their own.

A great business culture can be surprisingly hard to clearly define.

Conversely, a dysfunctional business culture is relatively easy to spot.

Most business leaders and entrepreneurs don’t work on their culture actively. So they end up with under-performing teams, businesses and organizations.


A Culture of Codependency

A corporate culture is an accumulation the beliefs, behaviors and methods formed from the people that defines how management and employees interact with each other and customers. It is “How things are done here.”

So how does a business culture become codependent?

One definition of codependency I found on Wikipedia gives us some insight.

“Codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.”

by Skip R. Johnson from “Codependency and Codependent Relationships”

Steve and Allan made a lot of mistakes around holding people responsible and under-achievement. That was only the beginning of their problems.

The following are some of the traps that cause a culture of codependency to form in an organization.

Codependent Entrepreneurs

My last article, “When Do Your Strongest Success Traits Make You Codependent?” covers the entrepreneurial traits that lead to codependent behavior. Both Steve and Allan fell into this trap first and then cascaded into the others.

No Core Values

Core values allow you to get clear on what is acceptable and what is not in your business. They are non-negotiable and if done right allow you to delegate confidently. If someone does not fit, they don’t get hired. If they violate a core value, they get to work elsewhere.

Culture Is Loosely Defined

You have to know what the culture you want is before you can actively create it. Culture should be aligned with the values of the leadership team and support the strategic objectives of the organization.

Lack of Accountability

People need clarity around their roles, the company strategy, and its goals. Make the standards of expected performance clear. Delegate and then hold people accountable. When you don’t hold people accountable, the entire team learns to compensate and lacks the required trust in teammates to fulfill their function. Silos start to form, and employees reverse delegate problems back up the chain further overloading the leaders.

No Systems and Processes

Don’t rely on the memory of people to ensure organizational performance and standards. Put systems and processes in place to make sure things happen correctly even when you are busy. Ensure people have the training, skills and tools to perform their roles.

Hiring For Skills and Experience

Hiring needs to be first about cultural fit. You can often train people on specific skills if they have enough of a match. You also need to review fit on a regular basis because things change.

Key-Person Bottlenecks

If all of the knowledge, skills or contacts rely on one person, if something happens to them your business will probably fail unless you can quickly replace them. That rarely happens in practice. One cause is when the person in the role won’t share it because they’ve tied their self-worth or importance to it.

Biased Feedback Loop

If you rely only on your view of things, your employees, and your customers, you may be blind to what is truly going on unless you are one of the few companies to have totally open and honest feedback. Even then, your team’s view is biased. Having outside advisors, mentors, and a business coach can go a long way to restoring objectivity.


If you are falling into one or more of these traps, and you suspect dysfunction, you should look closer to see if any codependency has rooted in your culture.

Your success depends on it.


This article originally appeared at “The Good Men Project“.