You're a Manager, Not a Cult Leader.... I Think
Do you know where the term "drinking the Kool-Aid" came from? "Drinking the Kool-Aid" refers to the tragic mass suicide of the People's Temple cult in 1978, where members drank a poisoned Kool-Aid drink at the urging of their leader, Jim Jones. The phrase has since been used more broadly to refer to the kind of blind loyalty and groupthink that can sometimes be seen in both cults and corporate cultures.
In some extreme cases, corporate cultures can take on cult-like characteristics. This can include things like a strict adherence to a particular set of rules or beliefs, a pressure to conform to the group's expectations, and a tendency to punish or ostracize those who dissent or challenge the group's norms. That being said, it's important to note that not all corporate cultures are cult-like, and not all cults are the same. It's also worth pointing out that there are many positive aspects to strong corporate cultures, such as a sense of shared purpose and a commitment to teamwork and collaboration.
Creating an environment that cultivates success is crucial to any team, as it helps maintain a united group of individuals who all bring something different to the table. As a manager, it's up to you to establish this culture and ensure that your team feels empowered and motivated by it. Remember, you're running a business and leading a team, not a cult - so don't get too caught up in corporate culture and leadership ideals that end up crossing the line into manipulation. You have a great deal of power over your team, whether you realize it or not, so it's important to recognize your role and the impact you have on your employees' day-to-day experiences.
The environment you create is what your team will live and breathe in every single day, so make it count. If you allow sloppiness and let mistakes slide, you're setting a precedent that doesn't value excellence and attention to detail. High achievers will feel frustrated, and you'll make it harder for yourself to reach your goals. Instead, establish values that align with your team's goals and hold everyone accountable to them. High performers will naturally self-correct and help motivate those who are struggling.
Implementing systems that help regulate your team is also crucial. You don't want to be the only one advocating for a positive environment - create a culture where others are pushing for it too (push pull concept...I'll get more into that later). What I like to do is to involve your team in establishing these principles, so they feel invested in the process and have a sense of ownership over the team's identity. By doing so, they'll have a stake in creating the team's culture and be more likely to buy into it. First, I lead off the conversation by doing a step back of our history: where we came from, and where have we been in the past year. I then go into what I can envision for the team and the outcomes that I can see us crushing. This gives people a target to shoot for, and then they are able to brainstorm what literally would the like the team to look like for the next year. Try this exercise, by gathering your team and brainstorming what your team's goals and values should be for the next year. By doing this, you'll help foster a sense of connection and camaraderie that will benefit everyone.
But how do we prevent a cult mentality? It’s important to promote individuality and encourage healthy disagreement. Instead of trying to avoid conflict, embrace it and hear both sides, as it may lead to creative solutions. By promoting an environment where conflict is encouraged, your team will feel comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions. If your team knows that conflict is promoted and debate is encouraged, they will likely lean into that more and more. You’ll be surprised how much you find out in one team lunch with a group of people who are encouraged to debate. It's important to have an open mind and not immediately dismiss ideas, work styles, or behavior that may seem different from the team culture. However, if a disruptive employee is affecting the environment of others, it's necessary to isolate the behavior and address it. This also applies to watercooler talk, where personal time and bonding with co-workers should be encouraged, but negative behavior should be addressed quickly to prevent it from spreading. By listening to the grievances of those who are negatively impacted and taking action, you can maintain a positive and healthy team dynamic.
Many of these pieces of advice are high level and situation driven. If you need someone to talk through your particular situation with me, please schedule a free 15 min mentorship so we can go into your team’s dynamic in detail. Otherwise, this is just high-level advice for you to think about and help you implement for your day to day.