How to Detox a Toxic Culture

If your organisation is grappling with the full reality of the great resignation perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at your workplace. According to a new report by MIT Sloan Management Review, ‘a toxic corporate culture is by far the strongest predictor of attrition and is 10 times more important than compensation in predicting turnover.’

How would you describe your work culture?
Could this be the reason your employees are leaving?

MIT reported 5 leading elements which contribute to toxic cultures: being disrespectful, non-inclusive, unethical, cutthroat and abusive.

Surely then, you’d know if your organisation was toxic, wouldn’t you? Well actually, perhaps not. There are a lot of other factors that can create a toxic culture. Toxicity can occur in micro-cultures, between individuals and even in negative behaviours that have been normalised over time, so at an organisational level toxicity can be easily missed.

Nevertheless, if your attrition rates are on the rise, this is a good indication that there is a growing problem that you must urgently address because a toxic culture will only serve to derail your organisation and show up negatively on the bottom line.

So what can you do to detox a toxic culture?

Ultimately, leaders and managers must take responsibility for turning around a toxic culture, but herein lies a dichotomy. According to a Gallup Survey, 50% of employees leave their workplaces to get away from a bad manager and most employees blame toxicity on poor management. The very people organisations must rely on to detox the culture are contributing to the toxic environments people are trying to escape. This is not a tenable position for any organisation and actions must be taken to upskill managers and embed more positive management behaviours that will cultivate cultures people want to join and, crucially, don’t want to leave.

Managers must relearn how to engage with people

Managers play a major role in cultivating culture but they are rarely given the skills they need to do so. Traditional management training programmes can fall short of the mark and often reinforce, or politely ignore, outdated management behaviours that stop managers from stepping up as people managers. Or more likely, as one leader of an organisation with over 100,000 employees recently commented, “we do a great job onboarding new employees, but don’t do anything to onboard new managers”. You can’t assume these people management skills will be acquired through osmosis.

Great managers need to learn how to engage with people to drive better outcomes. This means learning how to drop the typical command and control style of management that can enable toxic behaviours to manifest in favour of more of an Operational CoachingTM approach which is altogether more engaging and invites greater levels of contribution from others.

Adopting an Operational CoachingTM approach requires a rewiring of management thinking and a reprogramming of unhelpful (and sometimes toxic) management responses but this isn’t about teaching your managers about how to conduct formal 1-to-1 coaching sessions behind closed doors or having them attend futile management training courses that have little impact.

Rather, it’s about helping your managers to embed an enquiry-led approach (ELA®) into their natural leadership behaviours which they can utilise every day in the moment and on-the-job. This unique style of management, known as Operational CoachingTM, has been statistically proven to transform management behaviour in less than six months.

So how does Operational CoachingTM help managers to detox the workplace?


Unlike traditional hierarchical management approaches, Operational CoachingTM releases managers from the pressure of always having to hold all the answers and stops their desire to tell others what to do. In doing so, they gain the capacity to relate to others in a new way and through asking powerful questions and listening more effectively they can draw from others a different and far more positive response.


Conflict in the workplace causes a massive degree of discomfort, frustration and anger and is possibly the most obvious sign of toxicity, but Operational CoachingTM can help managers to take the sting out of the tail of disagreements at work. The approach stops managers from jumping to conclusions, casting blame or pushing unwanted solutions on to people, and gives them a moment to think about the best way to respond. It offers them a chance to formulate powerful questions that help them to drill down to the root cause of the conflict, diffuse the situation and facilitate next steps.


A very directive leadership approach can create subservience and dependence in people which can kill collaboration and stop people from speaking up; however an Operational CoachingTM approach invites others into the conversation without fear of retaliation. Once an open dialogue is established, people can collaborate more effectively, contribute more and become more engaged in what they do, increasing their sense of purpose and overall morale at work.


While inclusion is top of the agenda for many organisations, far fewer know how to make it an integral part of their company culture. Inclusion must be more than a mandate from the top; it must also be emphasised in the culture of the organisation and the behaviours that support it. Operational CoachingTM is an approach that helps managers to cultivate inclusivity by giving people a voice, encouraging their ideas, listening to them, making sure they feel valued, supporting their learning and development and giving them access to opportunity.


Traditional management approaches can suppress creativity and innovation by not giving people the freedom to contribute over and above what they are told to do. Conversely, managers who utilise an Operational CoachingTM approach use powerful questions to invite their team members to contribute their own thinking, explore options and encourage lots of new ideas and solutions. Consequently, managers soon discover that the people they work with are capable of adding huge amounts of value, making their jobs easier and everyone’s working lives more fulfilling.


Top-down power dynamics which are typically found in traditional leadership approaches are often defined by a lack of trust in the capability of others. Operational CoachingTM does not rely on this dynamic. Instead it helps managers to proactively demonstrate trust and confidence in the resourcefulness of their teams by helping people to think through their situations and empowering them to identify their own solutions and actions.

Toxicity is a major issue for organisations. Toxic environments lead to disengaged staff, low morale, poor productivity, increased absence levels, high recruitment costs and greater legal liability.

High attrition rates could indicate that there’s a problem even if you can’t immediately see one.

Organisations must take steps to detox their organisations and give their leaders and managers the skills they need to promote healthy, happy and productive workplaces. By embedding an Operational CoachingTM approach as the primary leadership style in your organisation, you are giving your organisation the best chance of success.

There are simply no downsides. Organisations that upskill their managers and foster great cultures benefit from the contributions of more engaged employees who are less stressed, more satisfied and far more likely to stick around. Furthermore, they’ll be better placed to attract new talent and become the winners in the race for talent.

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