The Culture-Killing Virus (And A Vaccine)

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There might be something going on inside your organization that’s keeping it from flourishing. It’s why your mission statement means diddly or your initiatives don’t work. It’s a rreealll troublemaker.

You can talk culture all you want, write values statements til the cows come home, but one simple (and prevalent) underlying factor can poison the whole operation:

Resentment.

No matter how much you front about unity, togetherness, or teamwork, a counterculture — attitudes opposed to or at variance with the popular way — fueled by underlying tensions will poison the entire bunch.

Resentment is an oil tanker spilling into the ocean. Termites in the walls. Water to the freshly-permed head of whatever you’re trying to accomplish. The bitterness of those harboring resentment leaks into their work, teammates, and the fabric of the entire organization.

A perceived slight, treatment or circumstances that cause one to feel shame or to lose one’s dignity, can breed indignation. Unspoken or unconscious animosity cause irritation. Hard feelings are the seeds of discontent.

During pre-season at Baylor, we did all kinds of calisthenics and weight training and everything under the sun to make sure we were ready to compete when game time rolled around. One such exercise was running sprints with a parachute strapped to our backs.

The whole purpose of training with the sprint parachutes is the element of resistance. The chute provides a counteracting force to your forward motion. It forces the muscles to overcome, making you quicker and more explosive.

Resentment can be that parachute, and when you feel as if your organization — a business, a team — is sluggish despite all your efforts to get it rolling, you’ve likely got unspoken disagreements holding everything back.

Luckily, once you know what is holding gyou back, you can do something about it. It’s the realization that a counterculture exists that kicks off the process of fixing it. Like the sprint chute, the parachute people can improve performance.

When there’s resistance to growth, look for unhandled conflict. And don’t just look for it in its current form, look for WHY it can exist in your culture.

Sentiments like “That’s how we’ve always done it” are a breeding ground for resentment. When avoidance, rejection, or other closed-off behaviors are acceptable, the entire organization is at-risk.

There can be conflict. We can work with conflict. Conflict is an opportunity to grow.

But, when there isn’t an openness element that allows for honesty, frank discussion, or conflict to even begin to get settled, there is no flow. There’s no air flow, no blood flow, no cash flow… and those are deadly to any body.

It’s true with people who feel stifled. It’s true with relationships where one or both partners are harboring resentment. It’s true for major corporations that don’t have failsafe strategkes and operations to effectively deal with conflict between employees.

Confronting conflict requires a smidge of exposure. Our brains naturally resist when we first attempt to expose ourselves, our feelings, aka: the things that turn into resentment. That makes it a matter of overcoming that initial resistance so that things — “good” and “bad” — can flow through.

Just like how people are the parachutes of growth, they are also the spigots that can turn themselves on to create the flow. I’ve always been able to turn things around for anybody, simply by being open, curious, honest, and unafraid of putting things out on the table.

I’m not talking about everyone holding hands while wearing Birkenstocks and hemp underwear (although, fight me if you have a problem with Birkies). The specifics will differ for every group, every combination of personalities, but the spirit is still the same:

Vaccinating against the resentment virus.

And, like I said, it’s not about avoiding them. Differences are good. Useful. Having myriad perspectives and inputs is a valuable asset. It’s where creative minds meet, and new ideas are born. Success lies in a culture that values differences and provides open forums for them to come together, mediate and hash out their differences, and synthesizes the material into innovative and effective processes for the future.

Openness. Accountability. The mindset to seek objective growth & success, rather than simply being right. Those are all key traits of a culture that will sustain an organization. Here are some tools for achieving that sustainable culture: