Posted on June 15, 2018

Ask an Expert: 6 signs that your organisational culture is not working?

"Are there any telltale signs that an organisational culture is not working? And what can you do about it?"

Question sent by Mohad A. and answered by our expert George Lupascu Pruna.

Dear Mohad, thank you for reaching out to me. 

In order to understand what a dysfunctional organisational culture is we have to clarify what we mean by Organisational Culture. Prof. Hofstede has captured it in the following way: “the way in which people in an organisation relate to each other, their work and the outside world, in comparison to other organisations.”

An organisation might have a dysfunctional culture if it doesn’t achieve its goals. Not all organisations that do not achieve their goals have a dysfunctional culture, but in most cases, this is the main reason. But to return to your question, let’s discuss what I call the 6 Signs of a Dysfunctional Organisational Culture.


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Sign No. 1 - We have always done it this way

In my previous article (here), I mentioned that as your company evolves, the organisational culture that used to work may no longer be suitable. The issue here is often that management doesn’t know how to (or want to) challenge the “status quo”.

The functional thing to do is to find out what are the accepted practices already supporting your strategy and focus on them while changing the ones that are not useful or hindering your goals.  


Sign No. 2 - Internal sabotaging

The main departments “sabotage” each other. This happens when the goals of each department take priority over the goals of the whole organisation. In my experience, this is a common case that happens, for instance, between the Sales and the Operations departments. The root cause is a lack of alignment of the goals of the two departments coming from the top management.

The functional thing to do would be to focus on the overall goal of the company and harmonize the practices in the two departments according to that goal.


Sign No. 3 - Old rules and outdated regulations lead to paralysed organisations.

Sometimes there are so many conflicting rules and regulations that people get “paralyzed” in doing their work. Management confuses employees with opposing rules, which leads to a situation in which the employees spend more time covering themselves than delivering the task.

The functional thing to do is to follow Michael Porter’s famous wise words, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do” and to communicate that clearly.


Sign No. 4 - The General Manager Almighty

The General Manager micromanages the process of initiative taking, the creativity of people or them being more innovative, all oxymorons intended!

The functional thing to do is to provide coaching to the General Manager to make them realise how their habits hinder the greater purpose.


Sign No. 5 - The “Steve Jobs” culture

Sometimes, managers adopt a foreign management style which they interpret through the lens of their own (national) culture. A good example of that would be Steve Jobs’ famous management style, which could be strict and even harsh, but also had an inspiring and visionary side, which was less obvious to the public at large.

In a high achievement-oriented culture with low hierarchy, such as the USA, this type of approach can work and motivate people. However, if you apply the “Jobs’” management approach to the Nordics, you will get the opposite result (demotivation and demission).

The functional thing to do is to ensure you adopt a management style that fits the local cultural environment and adapt your management practices to the audience you have in front of you.


Sign No. 6 - Start with the actual culture

Senior management has tried several organisational transformations in the past without measuring the actual culture. This resulted in management systems that work partially and that are either unnatural for the employees to follow or have considerable gaps in addressing various new situations.

If you do not measure your actual culture and thus do not know where you are now, you cannot realistically determine what you have to do in order to reach where you want to go.

The functional thing to do is to measure the actual organisational culture as a starting point in the transformation and build transformation journeys which are consistent and precise.


The above points are just a few of the reasons why wise leaders do a “check up” on their organisational culture regularly (at least once every 1.5 years). This way they are able to understand what culture their company actually has versus what they think their company has, what is blocking the organisation from succeeding, and what needs to be removed. Most importantly, they can focus on the things that will bring the most benefits in the future while ensuring a coherent long-term development of the organisational culture.

To find out more about the process we use and how we can help you go to:

a team collaborating toward the same goal supporting the strategy of the organisation and the Organisational Culure