How to Identify and Avoid Bad Corporate Subcultures

How to Identify and Avoid Bad Corporate Subcultures
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Bad Corporate Subcultures are Unaligned
Even companies with high performing organizational cultures have to recognize that corporate subcultures are not necessarily uncommon or bad.  We define bad corporate subcultures as ones that are misaligned with the company’s strategy or that undermine the company’s core values.

Why Subcultures Exist at Work
When a company or team is small, subcultures tend to be rare because everyone is working closely together to achieve a clear and common objective.

Different cultures within the overall corporate culture typically start when companies and teams grow.  Differences can occur either consciously or subconsciously.  They can most often be observed as distinctive behaviors, values, and norms required to meet specific objectives.

Regardless of origin, they tend to differ in some significant way from the overall corporate norms.

Can Corporate Subcultures Create Problems?
It can be difficult for some leaders to accept that there is not an absolutely uniform workplace culture within their organization.  But they should recognize that, within bounds, corporate subcultures allow groups to have a distinctive identity that can create a sense of belonging that supports the organization as a whole.

However, if a corporate subculture comes into conflict with your strategic priorities or the desired culture where their values and belief systems are at odds, yes, subcultures can be very problematic.

An Example of Healthy Corporate Subcultures
One of our high tech clients is laser-focused on being the market leader in their space with new products and services that are continuously beyond what exists today.  Accordingly, their go-to-market strategy and overall corporate culture are based on innovation, pushing the envelope, making big bets, testing alternatives, embracing risk, and learning from mistakes.

But a portion of their operations team is purposefully misaligned from a cultural perspective by having an explicit culture of planning, education, prevention, and safety.

The same is true of their finance and HR departments in terms of respecting specific rules and regulations.  While both departments can innovate in some areas, it is in the organization’s best interests that certain corporate subcultures exist and are purposefully misaligned.

Us Versus Them
The danger of a conflict between the overall organizational culture and bad corporate subcultures that inhibit the strategic direction or undermines the company values is that it creates an “Us vs. Them” mentality.  This is an unhealthy situation for all.

How to Avoid Bad Corporate Subcultures that Can Sabotage Success

  • Know Your Current Culture
    Invest the time to fully understand and assess your current culture before you make any decisions regarding how people should think, behave, and work.

    Too many leaders make changes without a thorough understanding of the current situation.

  • Acknowledge the Subcultures that Exist
    As a leader, recognize that some functions within your organization are better served with a subculture that respects the majority culture but behaves in a nuanced way that fits their team charter and role.
  • Beware of Dysfunction
    Be alert for signs that a subculture is being disruptive or confrontational.

    If you notice increasing conflict or a pattern of poor performance, investigate the cause.

  • Change the Dynamic
    Don’t allow a toxic climate to continue.

    There are lots of ways to change the dynamic, from changing managers to juggling teams, but do not let a bad corporate subculture fester.

The Bottom Line
Corporate subcultures exist in organizations.  Great leaders understand this and accommodate them unless they somehow impede the strategy or threaten the overall cultural health of the company.

To learn more about how to align cultures to create high performance, download The 3 Levels of a High Performance Culture that You Must Get Right

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