Australian Government,  Canberra,  Communications professional,  Facilitation,  Leadership,  Team performance

Why being nice doesn’t equal great culture

I was talking to a friend last week about who is finding work particularly challenging at the moment.

Everyone she works with is lovely, nice, and great to spend the day with. But the work keeps piling up, and some people in her team aren’t pulling their weight. She has raised issues with her manager about workload and distribution of work, but nothing seems to change. She feels both loyalties to stay because she likes everyone but also that it’s all just a bit unfair.

Sounds familiar, right?

We all want a workplace where everyone is friendly and gets along. But it’s not enough to create a great culture.

“Being too nice can be lazy, inefficient, irresponsible, and harmful to individuals and the organization.”

Michael Fertik

We often talk about wanting to work in a place with great people, but nice people are not the same as culture. Culture is the values, beliefs, and behaviours that define an organisation’s day-to-day operations and atmosphere.

A positive workplace culture is supportive, collaborative, and respectful but also a place where employees feel valued and appreciated.

Being nice is dysfunctional

Patrick Lencioni wrote a book called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (if you haven’t read it, you should). The premise is that to be a high-performing team, you need to:

  • Trust the people you work with. You feel comfortable speaking up, and team members help each other. Trust is not only built on being nice but also on feeling supported by others and that you can be counted on to deliver.
  • Enable productive conflict. Problems and issues in the team are discussed and resolved quickly using practical solutions. There is transparency and everyone feels empowered to speak up.
  • Have shared commitment. Everyone feels like the team is working towards common objectives and is clear on their role in achieving them.
  • Ensure everyone is accountable. There are the same standards of performance for everyone in the team. Poor performers are managed and held accountable. Missed deadlines and deliverables are not tolerated.
  • Be focused on results. A highly motivated team focuses on performance and being nice to each other. Everyone has a role to play in the team being a success.

So, what does nice normally look like in a team:

  • Avoid a difficult conversation with someone who hasn’t delivered what you need.
  • Not speaking up in a meeting because you don’t want to offend someone.
  • Not asking for help when you are drowning in work because you don’t want to burden others.
  • Confusion about who is doing what, but you just keep going because you don’t want to raise it.
  • Being asked to do more because others haven’t delivered.

In workplaces where there is a strong emphasis on being nice and polite at the expense of being honest or direct, it can lead to a culture of avoidance and conflict aversion, where people are reluctant to raise difficult issues or challenge the status quo. This can stifle creativity and innovation, and it can also make it difficult to address problems.

People may be afraid to speak up about problems or mistakes, and managers may be reluctant to hold people accountable for their actions. This can lead to a culture of mediocrity and complacency.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great working in a team where you enjoy the walk to the coffee shop or the chat in the kitchen. But when the pressure is on, and the work needs to get done, you need to be able to rely on your colleagues and know you are all working towards the same goal.

It is important to note not all nice workplaces lack a good culture. You can love the people you work with AND have a productive, effective and high-performing team. You just need to get the balance right.

If you don’t know what is happening in your team or can’t get to the root cause of the issue, why not chat to us about getting an independent review. We would love to talk to you more about your culture and how we can help.

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