The following 20 signs are based on my observations regarding organizational dysfunction associated with a toxic (poisonous) culture in any organization.

In this article, the word culture refers to the prevailing attitude, behavior, and unspoken feeling and or rules that motivate and determine how people respond, react, and act in the context of their work.

The following toxic traits fit either a “for profit” or “nonprofit “organization (including nonprofits like a hospital, school, or church).

1.  The leader is a demanding micro manager

When the leader of an organization is constantly hovering over staff and other team leaders—not only telling them what to do but exactly how to do it (although this is necessary temporarily when a new person is learning a new job until they prove their competency), it discourages the work environment because the leader’s leadership style demonstrates a lack of trust towards those under him or her.

2.  The leader is emotionally abusive and demeaning 

A work environment is absolutely horrible when the boss is constantly putting the staff and other leaders down—never praising them, and only speaking to them when he wants to correct them.

3.  The leader doesn’t understand or desire to delegate tasks to others

Often, micro managers have a hard time delegating work to others because they have a “perfectionist” spirit and think that they are the only ones who can get a job done the correct way. Even when they delegate, they don’t trust those they delegate to and are constantly on top of them, thus not giving them room to breathe or grow.

4.  The leader and the governing board are always arguing

I have spoken to numerous pastors or CEO’s who say they dread board meetings because of philosophical differences. The result is, there is constant bickering and or resistance which then hurts the execution of the vision, which spills over to the rest of the organization—creating a toxic environment.

5.  There is low morale among the staff, employees, and participants 

When the staff and team leaders of an organization have low morale, it negatively affects the rest of the participants since it is like a virus that spreads to all.

6.  The vision and mission are always changing based on the mood of the leader 

Any church or organization that has a new vision and mission every year has a confused leadership team. Since vision determines the organization’s responsibility and mission determines its authority, when these two are constantly changing, nobody understands what is expected; thus, creating confusion, lack of trust towards the leader and resulting in a toxic culture.

7.  There is a culture of rampant gossip tolerated 

When an organization cannot keep confidentiality among the leaders and staff, and when backstabbing and gossip is tolerated, the organization is poisonous and unfit to work in until there is a drastic shift away from this behavior.

8.  There is a lack of transparency regarding financial decisions 

When any organization—including a church—doesn’t at least annually divulge financial expenditures, values, and priorities, it shows a lack of accountability and possible mismanagement. When only the lead pastor and or CEO of an organization (not talking about a “for profit” mom and pop restaurant or small business) know the true financial state and or has access to the monies, it can be an ethical disaster waiting to happen! I’ve known of some cases where not even the trustees of the organization knew what was going on financially.

9.  There is an ambiguous accountability structure

When nobody on staff or in a ministry or job position understand “who to report to” it creates a toxic, confusing environment without true accountability.

10. There is a lot of transition in the staff and middle management 

When a “season” of transition becomes years of staff transition, it becomes part of the culture and demonstrates some level of toxicity that chases people away from the work environment. People in healthy work environments usually enjoy going to work (unless they are lazy and unmotivated) and make a long-term commitment to serve.

11. There is no “buy in” 

The key to the success of all organizations is when the staff and participants go from being “employees” to “proprietors;” hence, only when the key players in an organization take ownership and have the attitude of a shareholder, does the organization gain momentum.

An organization populated only with mere “employees” is a toxic organization that marginalizes its ability to execute its vision and mission.

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