Every organization has a visible side and a somewhat invisible side also known as… the shadow side. This is the unhealthy, underlying organization within the organization. Sometimes the shadow side is inactive, like a dormant cancer cell in the body. When it is inactive, it is somewhat harmless. But when it becomes active, things can get ugly very fast. Below are the warning signs of an active shadow side and what to do to advance the health of the organization.
Growing organizational secrecy – more people talking in hallways, in parking lots, and on social media than in actual meetings.
Increasing staff turnover – more people quietly searching and ultimately leaving by their own choice.
Increasing “chatter” – more people talking, venting and sometimes gossiping to one another about the culture and leadership.
Difficulty in recruitment – fewer talented people accepting offers for key positions.
Avoidance of difficult discussions – fewer candid conversations in team and board meetings.
Surprising decisions, actions or words – more people thinking “what was that all about” or “where did that come from?”
What to do about the shadow side?
Most organizations and leaders have experienced the shadow side becoming active or will experience it soon enough. As challenging as it can be, it is not uncommon. Rather than reacting, learn. The shadow side will not go away by yelling, threatening, or inflaming suspicion. A wise leader will contain their fear and seek to learn. Here are six suggestions to start the process of bringing your organization back to health.
First, acknowledge that it exists.
Ask questions in a non-threatening way.
Seek help by asking a neutral adviser to look at the culture and make recommendations.
Contain the temptation to punish those you feel are “against you” unless it’s confirmed they are toxic.
Seek first to understand rather than to prove yourself or defend yourself.
Be humble enough to acknowledge where you and the organizational culture can improve.
Contact us to learn how our consultants can give you the outside perspective you need to bring your organization back to health.
Jay Desko is the Executive Director of The Center Consulting Group and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Jay brings experience in the areas of organizational assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include an M.Ed. in Instructional Systems Design from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership from The Union Institute.