When company culture fails, how do you fix it? Can it recover with new hires, change of attitudes and/or morale, or is there no saving an unhappy working environment? Office culture is a unique beast. You don’t always see it (especially as an outsider), but each work environment has a collective sum of all its parts; the employees. 

Like anything with moving parts, there will be inevitable jams and system failures. What causes malfunctions in culture in the workplace?

Culture Fails: when there are workplace distractions

Culture fails when there isn’t enough work being done due to distractions from within the office environment; interruptions from phone calls and emails, noise pollution, people coming over to your desk to talk, meetings…

  • Make sure you balance collaboration and distraction.
  • Improve communication through office design.
  • 37signals, the company behind the popular collaboration tool Basecamp, created a healthy mix of vast open space with desks that feel like your workspace at home. Jason Fried, co-founder and president of 37signals explains the approach in FastCo: Desks at the 37signals space — custom-built abstracted forms that incorporate planes of utilitarian cork — are surrounded by acres of personal space around each desks, which minimizes interactions with other co-workers and replicates the spacious comfort of an employee's home office, says Fried. "I think people would get more work done if they weren't assaulted by interruptions."

Too many stressful distractions and work overload causes a bad environment not suited for creating fantastic work.

  • Try making small changes, like “no email Wednesdays” or creating quiet time in the afternoons. Enforcing quiet time actually increases productivity. Internet Simplicity is a Silicon Valley web development firm holds their own "no talking time" which is an opportunity for heads down work without distractions.
Culture Fails: when employees butt heads

When employees disagree, often times it is simply differences in personalities. How do you incorporate many personalities into one office culture?

  • Ensure that everyone gets to know each other so there is some level of empathy towards one another. 
  • Spending time with coworkers outside of an office is good for improving relationships during workdays.
  • Find common ground with people that you don't know very well.
  • Put yourself in their shoes, and ask the same.

When employees butt heads over projects and it is pretty heated, this could be due to a team mate being territorial over a project, or miscommunication.

  • Don’t hold grudges, and air out grievances before it potentially becomes an outburst. 
  • Get together outside of work to talk things over.
  • Pick up the phone and call them instead of emailing – the tone of your voice is very important during a dispute.
Culture Fails: from wrong hires

Hiring someone new is always a learning curve. There is an adjustment period where everyone gets used to the new person, and same with the new employee. During this time frame, or later on, you might discover that they aren't the right fit in the company. Often times, it can be as simple as hiring a family member or friend without seriously considering if they would fit within the company stratosphere. Rand Fishkin the CEO for SEOmoz discusses hiring mistakes within his company.

  • This could be caused by a minimal interview vetting process, which can be fixed by beefing up your recruitment techniques. 
  • Don’t ignore warning signs early on, and nip the problems in the bud before they become huge issues, or you might find yourself looking for a replacement.

How do you fix problems in your office culture? What techniques work for you when culture fails? Please share in the comments!

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