Take 5 minutes right now and ask yourself this hard question: "Would I want to work for my company?"

Be honest in answering. I mean, really honest!

Dysfunctional workplaces are more common than you think in the eyes of the employees who work there. So how do you tell if your company is one of them and if you're currently failing your employees? Here are a few tell-tale signs that your culture is in trouble and some tips for how you can overcome them.

1. A "Dilbert Epidemic": I believe (controversially so I've been told) that the number of Dilbert comics pinned up in a given workplace is directly proportional to team members' unhappiness with said workplace. Dilbert comics are all about how messed up a business is and play on all the stereotypes of a dysfunctional office - the ineffective manager, the lazy employee, etc.. I believe that they are a form of silent protest like some kind of management voodoo doll with pins in its face. Go for a walk around the office after hours. If you have a Dilbert breakout, you have a problem.

Tips for dealing with it:

  • Put a light on dark places: Acknowledge the issues you see among employees, ensure you're not a culprit yourself, and lead by example. Hold people accountable for how many meetings they have, how transparent they are, and how engaged their teams are underneath them.
  • Ask for employee feedback: Ask tough questions in anonymous employee feedback mechanisms and take that advice seriously. If people know you are serious about their input and feedback, they will generally give it to you.

2. Fight Club antics: We all know the first rule of Fight Club: don't talk about Fight Club. The same holds for in-fighting amongst your exec team. It's unrealistic for a high-powered exec team in a fast-growing company to get along every day. But team friction needs to be kept as professional as possible given its disruptive effect on the working teams in your company. If in-fighting becomes overt, you are failing in your job as a leader to protect your teams from needless office distraction.

Tips for dealing with it:

  • Give yourself and others a break: If an argument is getting heated in a meeting or by email, ask people to take step back, go for a walk and take a couple of long, deep breaths before reengaging or hitting "Send" on that flaming email. Better yet, show the email to someone else for their feedback before sending it.
  • Acknowledge differences and encourage better processes for handling them: Growth companies can be a stressful environment and tension is natural. There are lots of ways of handling conflict which can produce great outcomes. Taking your leaders for a coffee and a one-on-one chat to make sure you let them know how they are "showing up" for others and to give them advice or tools to better handle conflict.

3. The 9 to 5 turns into 9:15 to 4:45: I love it when I get to the office early or stay late and there are enthusiastic and hardworking people putting in extra hours because they "believe". Not always, but when it is needed. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a sure sign that you have a culture problem is a team that comes in late and leaves early every day. Idealistic visions of the "4 day work week" aside, in any company with a big goal, this is a surefire sign of a problem.

Tips for dealing with it:

  • Create a more compelling vision: It is very possible that you haven't created the vision, mission, rewards, or motivation to keep your team engaged. Test understanding of the vision and mission with the team through one-on-one's and through anonymous company surveys. Action the results.
  • Make it about them: This isn't just a job, it's a mission, a team. It's as much their company as it is yours so help them to recognize that fact every time they step through the door in the morning. This doesn't have to mean giving every team member an ownership stake (although it helps). Let everyone have a voice at the table, and make space for the team to exert influence on how business is conducted.

4. Silence is deadly: Unless you're a running a library or a funeral home, a growing business should make some noise. People meeting. People talking. People laughing. Phones ringing. All are signs that you have a collaborative, respectful team working with each other to solve problems and move the needle. An office full of heads-down, earphones-on team members avoiding eye contact and eating at their desks is a bad sign.

Tips for dealing with it:

  • Walk the walk, but also talk the talk: When you enter the office each morning, do it with energy and confidence. If no one is talking, start the conversation yourself. Make yourself and your attitude known. If the boss isn't afraid to make some noise, employees won't be either.
  • Culture is king: Regular office activities like weekly yoga breaks or team lunches bring excitement and buzz into the office. Tear down walls physically and metaphorically. Force executives to sit with their teams in cubicles. They are not above anyone.

5. Closed doors: If you have a team full of execs locked away behind closed doors like emperors over their kingdoms, you have a problem 100% of the time. Your employees want to know that leaders are available, approachable, and invested in growing the business with the rest of the team. If your leadership aren't "always on" for the people who work for them and aren't open about the things that affect not just the business but also the individuals who make it tick, then you are failing.

Tips for dealing with it:

  • Be present and visible: Your leadership aren't Wizards of Oz behind the green curtain pulling magic levers. They are part of a team. Your employees look to them to set an example and a tone and they can't do that if they are locked in a room all day. Same goes for you, by the way.
  • Know your team: Business is personal, so treat your business with a personal touch, starting with how you treat your team. Get to know them, find common ground, and build relationships that extend beyond just being the boss.

Every one of these solutions above require you to be honest with yourself. Recognize when you're failing, and don't wait to do something about it. A good manager of people should be able to take a step back and make an honest assessment of the big picture. Now go and be awesome!

Published on: Nov 5, 2015