Monday, September 4, 2023

What Makes Toxic Cultures?

By Pascal Dennis

“The walls in that place ooze toxicity.”

That’s how a colleague describes a famous Canadian children’s hospital. I was shocked, as you might imagine.

How can this be, I thought? My colleague is a senior nurse practitioner and administrator – energetic, capable, and an inspiring optimist. And children’s hospitals are among the most inspiring of workplaces.

(It’s been my good fortune to work with the great Dr Tom Hansen, now retired, and the splendid Seattle Children’s Hospital team. Long may you run.)

Anyhow, after three years trying to change the place, she resigned.

Why are some organizations toxic?

In my experience, a deep, persistent toxicity requires decades to develop. My friend, Jim Sapienza, suggests toxic cultures are like toxic waste dumps.

Barrel after barrel of toxic waste, and decades of poor environmental practice make the latter. Similarly, barrel after barrel of human deceit, arrogance and cruelty, and decades of poor management create the former.

What’s the countermeasure? Environmental recovery requires careful removal of contaminated soil, materials and equipment, and diligent treatment of air and water using the most advanced technologies available.

Often a site is uninhabitable for years. Does the same metaphor apply for toxic cultures?

I’m reminded of that bad Charles Bronson movie, The Evil That Men Do….

Bad management can last for generations. Garbage that leaders do today can afflict people not yet born.

Leaders, are you up to the challenge?

Best regards,


In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

Why Becoming an Ambidextrous Organization is so Challenging
The Seven QC Tools, Part 4
Protecting The Core Business Is Not Enough
The Seven QC Tools, Part 3

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