The Most Read Workplace Culture Articles of 2023
A recap of my first 9 months on Substack writing about teamwork, leadership, and work culture
I began writing on a weekly basis seven years ago as a way to dive deep into the world of workplace culture. Researching for my articles became a way to challenge my own beliefs – and my mistakes as a recovered CEO and advertising professional.
Writing soon became part of my life, as an experience I truly enjoy.
However, when I joined Substack, things changed. I felt an added pressure – a greater responsibility – to please my subscribers. Luckily, I soon discovered a fresh source of inspiration: being part of a curious community and writing for real people, not an anonymous audience.
Finding new topics that provoke curiosity, inspire, and provide actionable tips is not always easy. Articles like The weaponization of culture and Dealing with silent saboteurs have struck a chord with many, provoking meaningful conversations. While others, like Autonomy Is the Best Way to Reward Your Team, didn’t gain as much traction.
“Always informative, sometimes controversial and useful as can be… so many articles – I often find myself lost in the content for hours.” – Bernard Thorpe
I also enjoy challenging perspectives by exploring fresh angles on mainstream topics. For example, my post about the “psychological safety bubble” received both pushback and positive feedback, as it touched on a subject that many treat as a sacred cow.
Here’s a selection of the top ten most-read articles by this community of change makers.
#1. When Culture Is Weaponized at Work
Workplace culture is supposed to embody the heart and soul of an organization. But what happens when this very concept, meant to unify and inspire, is twisted into a tool for manipulation?
The dark side of culture is a growing concern, and we need to pay more attention to it. This silent epidemic is not just about the gap between stated values and actual practices, but about intentionally twisting these values for personal gain.
How often have you seen 'teamwork' being exploited to justify overwork? Or 'candid feedback' turned into a means of public humiliation? These are not mere glitches but manipulative strategies disguised as nice cultural norms.
The challenge here is multifaceted. On one hand, there's the deception that comes with a culture that preaches inclusivity but practices exclusion. On the other, there's the subtlety of these manipulations, making them hard to pinpoint and even harder to address.
Weaponizing culture erodes trust, stifles innovation, and demotivates employees. Learn to identify the early flags before it gets too late.
#2. Overcoming Silence in All-Hands Meetings
Picture this: You're leading an all-hands meeting, you ask for feedback, and all you get is a deafening silence. It's a scenario many leaders face and a challenge that can feel like hitting a wall.
Why does this happen? Often, it's not just about the reluctance to speak up, but a deeper issue within the meeting's dynamics. Think about it. How often do team members feel their input is genuinely valued? Are your questions sparking thought, or do they feel too generic?
This silence is a symptom of a larger problem — a disconnect between leadership and teams. It's a signal, a call to action, for any leader who wants to foster a truly collaborative environment. So, how can you transform your team meetings into engaging, productive discussions?
#3. Why Is Humor So Powerful at Work?
In today's ‘professional’ work environment, humor often takes a back seat. But why is it so challenging to integrate laughter into our professional lives?
Studies show we laugh less as we age, and even less so at work. This begs the question: Is our workplace culture stifling the very thing that could make it more vibrant and productive?
Humor, often misunderstood and underused, poses a unique challenge. It's a delicate balance – too little, and we risk a dry, uninspiring work atmosphere; too much, or the wrong kind, and we could offend or alienate team members. And let's not forget, what's funny to one person might not be to another.
This complexity of humor in a professional setting leaves many leaders and teams walking a fine line.
Humor holds immense potential to transform workplace dynamics. It can foster creativity, ease tension, and build stronger team connections. So, how can we navigate the intricate world of humor at work without crossing lines or dampening spirits?
#4. The Psychological Safety Bubble
In the quest to build high-performing teams, psychological safety has become a buzzword. But there's a growing concern: Are we misinterpreting and misusing this concept? The challenge begins with a common misconception – equating psychological safety with constant comfort and avoidance of conflict.
But true psychological safety isn't about creating a bubble where everyone feels perpetually secure. Rather, it's about fostering an environment where taking risks and engaging in open, sometimes difficult conversations, is encouraged.
The real difficulty lies in balancing safety with the need for honest, sometimes challenging conversations. Misguided efforts to create safety can lead to an atmosphere of 'safetyism,' where protecting feelings overrides the need for constructive conflict and genuine growth.
Psychological safety is not just about feeling safe but creating a robust platform for growth, innovation, and challenging the status quo. Here’s how.
#5. Intellectual Humility Matters (A Lot)
In the modern workplace, the concept of intellectual humility is often overlooked, yet it's a vital skill for effective leadership. Intellectual humility requires acknowledging that we don't have all the answers – a notion that clashes with traditional views of leadership.
One major obstacle is the common misconception that leaders must always appear certain and knowledgeable. This pressure can lead to a false sense of infallibility, where admitting uncertainty or ignorance is seen as a weakness.
Intellectual humility is not just about being open to being wrong, but also about separating one's identity from their ideas. This is a complex psychological task, as our beliefs and opinions often form a significant part of our self-identity.
So, how can leaders develop intellectual humility?
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#6. How Can I Build a Culture of Feedback?
Building a culture of feedback in the workplace sounds great in theory, but in practice, it's fraught with challenges.
The first hurdle is overcoming the innate discomfort around feedback. It's often seen as criticism rather than an opportunity for growth, leading to anxiety and defensiveness.
Another challenge lies in the delivery and reception of feedback. It's not just about what is said but how it's said and received. Miscommunication and misinterpretation are common pitfalls.
There's also the issue of frequency. Feedback isn't just for annual reviews; it needs to be a continuous process.
And then there's the question of relevance and actionability. Feedback must be specific and actionable, but too often, it's vague and non-specific.
Building a culture of feedback that works is not just about implementing a system but changing mindsets and behaviors. Discover how.
#7. Resolving Conflict and Team Drama
Team drama is a term that conjures images of conflict, tension, and disruption in the workplace. But what makes it such a pervasive and challenging issue?
The root of team drama often lies in the roles we unconsciously adopt - the Victim, the Villain, and the Hero. These roles fuel a cycle of blame, defense, and unnecessary heroics, creating a toxic environment that hinders collaboration and productivity.
The challenge begins with recognizing these roles. It's easy to see others as Villains or Victims, but much harder to see these elements in ourselves.
Another major hurdle is breaking the cycle of drama. Shifting from reactive to proactive roles requires not just awareness but a fundamental change in behavior.
Then there's the issue of addressing the underlying causes of drama. Team drama is often a symptom of deeper issues like lack of clarity, mistrust, or misaligned goals.
Moving from a drama-driven culture to an ownership-driven one requires a shift in values, norms, and behaviors at all levels of the organization. But how do you create this cultural shift in a way that's authentic and sustainable?
#8. Culture Fitness, Not Culture Fit
In the evolving landscape of the modern workplace, the concept of 'culture fit' is being scrutinized. Traditional hiring for culture fit often leads to a homogeneous work environment, stifling diversity and innovation.
Culture fitness is a much better solution.
For years, the emphasis has been on finding candidates who seamlessly blend into the existing culture. However, confirmation and affinity biases often lead to replicating the same profiles and even discrimination.
Bringing in diverse talents under the banner of culture fitness means more than just hiring for diversity; it's about ensuring these individuals can effectively learn from and contribute to the organization.
Nurture an environment that embraces diverse perspectives, promotes innovation, and remains agile in the face of change. Here’s how to move from culture fit to culture fitness.
#9. Company Values Have Lost their Value
Most companies proudly display their values on websites and office walls. But there’s often a dangerous gap between these proclaimed values and real-world actions.
The first hurdle is the ease of declaring values versus the difficulty of living them. It's one thing to claim values of integrity, innovation, or teamwork, but it’s quite another to embody these in everyday actions.
Another major challenge is the prevalence of corporate jargon. Values often get lost in a sea of buzzwords, becoming meaningless to the very employees they’re meant to inspire.
Then there's the issue of consistency. When leaders' actions don't align with stated values, it undermines trust and morale.
Moreover, in the pursuit of tangible results, values can be sidelined. The pressure to meet targets and deadlines can lead to a culture where values are just a ‘nice to have.’
So how can you ensure that your company values are not mere words but guiding principles for action?
#10. Neutralizing Cynicism at Work
In any workplace, cynicism lurks in the shadows, often unrecognized yet deeply corrosive.
First, there's the challenge of recognition. Cynics often masquerade as critical thinkers, making it difficult to distinguish between healthy skepticism and destructive cynicism.
Another major hurdle is the subtlety of cynicism's impact. It's not just about negativity; cynicism can slowly erode trust, dampen morale, and stifle collaboration.
Then there's the issue of response. Confronting cynicism head-on can be tricky. Direct confrontation may backfire, entrenching the cynic's beliefs.
Moreover, cynicism is often a symptom of deeper issues within the organization, like perceived injustice or a lack of trust. Addressing the symptom without tackling the root cause is a temporary fix at best.
Turning cynics into positive contributors is no small feat. It requires empathy and patience.
Thank you for joining me on this journey.