With all the focus and talk about equality, diversity and inclusion, and the writings and teachings about real leadership, you would imagine the awful corporate culture so evident in the 80’s and 90’s and perhaps beyond, would be confined to history. Sadly this is not the case.

There are still plenty of corporate companies failing in their duty to provide a healthy corporate culture and the Chairman and CEO are to blame for this. They are in the driving seat on all matters and corporate culture is a big part of their responsibility. If the chairman and CEO are unaware of culture problems, then this says a lot about how out of touch they are with the business.

Close behind on blame is the HR function who should be equally be recognising the state of the company’s political atmosphere. The HR function should not be standing silent while they hear feedback from staff on how stressed or unfulfilled they are.

The staff turnover figures and the added costs going into replacing leavers and re-training them will make for unhappy reading and should be a real motivator for the CEO and Chairman to do something about it.

What is a toxic culture?

The most common components of toxic culture is where the whole company is rife with ‘Clique’ groups and their petty politics. It’s driven by the excluders who don’t want anyone in their group who wouldn’t fit in with the opinions of the clique leader.

I saw a good examples of this inside WANG, the one-time leading computer company that went into Chapter 11 and fizzled out. Job candidates were favoured by one function because they played golf and would fit in the golf clique.

Another company just rife with cliques was DIGITAL. This was a global IT company. They had 148 working parties and committees in the UK subsidiary alone. So many of them were run by clique leaders. If you weren’t in a clique you were not invited to meetings and felt very left out.

So what are cliques:

A clique culture in a company is a culture where employees form exclusive social groups or cliques, based on shared interests, backgrounds, or beliefs, which can lead to exclusion of other employees who do not belong to these groups. Cliques in a work environment are very detrimental to teamwork, productivity, and morale.

In a clique culture, individuals may feel the need to conform to the values, attitudes, and behaviours of their group, even if they do not necessarily align with their personal values or the company’s culture. This leads to an unhealthy work environment, where individuals feel pressured to fit in, and may be hesitant to speak up or offer alternative viewpoints.

Cliques also lead to favouritism. Members may tend to support and promote each other, while excluding others from opportunities. This can create feelings of resentment and unfairness among employees, which can ultimately harm the company’s culture and overall success.

To prevent a clique culture, companies should promote a culture of inclusivity, encourage diversity and open communication, and provide opportunities for employees to collaborate and build relationships across different teams and departments. Managers should also be vigilant in identifying and addressing any cliques that may form, to ensure that all employees feel valued equally and included in the workplace.

None of this can be achieved unless the chairman or CEO drive the culture change. It is not easy to change a corporate culture and once it takes hold it requires extraordinary leadership to make things better. Sadly, a toxic culture is a result of poor leadership from the top and very often the only way to fix this problem is to change people at the top. Non executive directors should be looking for signs of an unhappy workforce. It’s not hard. It shows in the staff turnover numbers they see in board meetings. If they are doing their job right, the non executive directors should be talking regularly to staff at all levels to get a feel about what it’s like working for the company.

More about toxic cultures:

Toxic culture symptoms

Toxic Culture Is Driving the Great Resignation

7 Concerning Signs of a Toxic Work Culture