How to avoid toxic workplace behaviors

3 toxic workplace behaviors that limit collaboration and how to avoid them

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Sophia Ellis
Oct 05, 2017

Company culture is a much-heated debate amongst top companies and CEOs as to who has it “right”. I think we can all agree that the main goal of company culture for this next generation of companies is to promote innovation and collaboration in any way possible. Even traditionally ‘stable’, older companies know they have to make changes in order to open the door for improved collaboration and stay relevant.

There are plenty of trendy tactics popularized by Facebook and Google – like open office plans and decentralized structures – that you can argue for or against. But every company and team is different.

Even so, there are a few workplace behaviors that limit collaboration and should be avoided in order to promote the most productivity and greatest ideas.

1. Email-based communication

It’s so easy to get caught up communicating in a way that is actually extremely inefficient. We’re all so used to using email externally, that we can forget how limiting it can be for internal discussion, where communication should be as intuitive and fast as possible. Employees spend on average over half their time dealing with work-related email. Not only does it make communication with a team difficult and segregated, but it eats up time like nothing else. Multiple versions of files, parallel threads, and missing information are all huge inhibitors to team collaboration. Email needs to be replaced. Many companies have had huge success with group chat platforms for teams. Group chat allows for consistent, collaborative, and intuitive conversation that is recorded just like email. Instead of trying to make sure everyone is included in a thread or has access to the latest versions of files, everything happens in one place. It’s the best method for brainstorming and sharing ideas.

2. Complicated communication process and structure

Some organizations just don’t know how to function without heavily structured and regulated processes for communication. This is usually the case for extremely large corporations that have been around for a long time. Though that may be the way they work best overall, smaller teams within those corporations need more freedom, so that new ideas and innovation can spring from collaboration.

Employees should be able to:

  • reach supervisors who can access the means necessary to act on ideas quickly
  • communicate directly across departments and teams without managerial approval
  • be encouraged to do both of the above

Too much process and hierarchy around collaborating discourages employees from thinking there’s any point in breaking away from the traditional methods of communication. A company with this general feeling is doomed to fall behind more collaborative companies.

Elon Musk famously told his employees that limiting communication to a string of telephone calls between departments and managers is “incredibly dumb”.

3. Over-managing

I think companies often forget how capable and intuitive their employees can actually be. At a certain point in a company’s growth, there comes a time when managing becomes mainly about making sure employees do XYZ according to plan. Anything outside of this is seen as a break from the status quo needed to maintain productivity. Some managers can be against collaboration because it’s not a measurable task. But it is your company’s future. Managers need to learn to promote collaboration on a regular basis in order to see brilliant ideas and important problems solved. Your employees are more than capable, but not when they’re stuck in a structured system of doing things and told how to use their time. Managers tend to silo and delegate work from the top. This doesn’t allow departments to mix, and as such discourages employees from working and collaborating together, which would achieve better project results in turn. Managers should present challenges, expectations, suggestions, and resources. That’s it. Allowing employees to solve problems using their diverse skill sets together will produce results far greater than those at the top can predict.

Collaboration is just not a natural part of the process of running a structured and growing company with managers. It requires conscious support and encouragement from the top down, in order to create an environment in which collaboration comes naturally. Though it may seem counterintuitive at times, collaboration is what will keep companies afloat in the future.

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