Most human interactions have some element of drama. You are likely in some degree of drama right now! Given their high-stakes environments, organizations are especially prone to drama. But there’s drama and then there’s drama.

In our experience as Mission-Drivers, we recognize there can be a level of drama that impedes an organization’s functioning. We call this toxic drama. In cultures that experience toxic drama, we see poor functioning, low morale, high turnover, and low outcomes. Often there is little recognition or awareness that drama exists. Employees, leadership, and board are locked into habitual ways of relating to one another that become normalized and are not questioned.

The destructive symptoms of a drama culture often take subtle form. Employees, teams or departments relate to each other through blame, competition for resources, denial of responsibility, and avoidance of resolving problems. Given that culture is often “in the walls,” it can be difficult to identify the presence and impact of drama. Like an invisible cancer eating away at the internal organs of an organization, drama monitoring requires awareness, vigilance, and a proactive approach.

In our 14 years consulting with organizations of all sizes and sectors, national to local, we have identified the five most common drama cultures to watch out for:

Slow Death Drama:
Looks like: “Everything is fine”
When actually: Organizations are struggling to remain relevant to their customers (or members) and their missions, but are unwilling to face the truth of this reality.

Zero-Trust Drama:
Looks like: “Everyone for themselves”
Drama symptoms: Team members experience, expect, and participate in, backstabbing, gossip, poor information-sharing, taking credit for others’ work, and lack of transparency.

Pervasive Denial Drama:
Looks like: “No problems here”
When actually: Conflict is avoided at all costs. People are polite to each other and seem satisfied enough, but there’s no real engagement with internal or external stakeholders, and little enthusiasm for the organization’s mission and vision.

Anxiety Drama:
Staff outlook: “Nothing is certain”
Drama symptoms: Team members are constantly second-guessing, sticking to suboptimal routines, and maintaining the status quo to create the illusion of security and safety.

Authoritarian Drama:
Looks like: “We do what we’re told.”
Drama symptoms: Leader(s) don’t develop their people. As a result, people take no responsibility for the development of their potential, their teams’ potential, or their organization’s potential. The organization is stuck, rigid, and in defensive mode.

There is hope.  We see it in organizations that create cultures of responsibility and accountability, especially in the ways people communicate with one another. This strengthens teams and enhances their capacity to serve their mission on behalf of all their stakeholders. Organizations that tackle drama are desirable places to work, invest in and partner with, and continue to grow as a result.

Contact Jacki Davidoff to discuss your organization’s culture, as well as any signs of drama.