When it comes to organizational culture, the “family” culture stands out as a unique blend of warmth, connection, and unfortunately, high-avoidance. It’s where everyone knows each other, and there’s an inherent sense of belonging. But, just like in many families, there are certain topics, certain inconvenient truths, that we tiptoe around to avoid confrontation. 

When we talk about a “family” culture in an organizational setting, we’re referring to teams that exhibit low courage, but high-connection. It’s a culture characterized by two main traits: being nice and being capable. Yet, these organizations are  often unwilling to tackle the difficult issues head-on. In such environments, the fear of upsetting someone often trumps the need to address pressing concerns. The result? Inconvenient truths remain undiscussed, and issues that need addressing are swept under the rug.

Being overly nice might seem like a virtue, but in the organizational realm, it can be a silent killer of growth, progress and innovation. When teams prioritize niceness over candid feedback and open communication, critical issues often go unaddressed. This avoidance can lead to stagnation, as teams become complacent, failing to challenge the status quo or push boundaries. Moreover, leadership in such environments can become indecisive, often shying away from making tough calls to avoid ruffling feathers. This lack of decisive leadership can result in missed opportunities, slow responses to market changes, and an overall decline in competitive edge. 

The Underlying Psychology

Understanding the psychology behind family cultures is crucial. Humans, by nature, are social beings. We crave connection, acceptance, and a sense of belonging. This is rooted in our evolutionary history, where being part of a group meant increased chances of survival. In modern organizational settings, this translates to a desire for harmonious work environments where conflicts are minimal and everyone gets along.

However, this desire for harmony can sometimes be a double-edged sword. While it fosters a sense of unity and camaraderie, it can also lead to high-avoidance behaviors. And a high-avoidance team can never be a high-performing team. 

The Pitfalls of Excessive Niceness

Top talent, which typically thrive on challenge and growth, may feel stifled in such an environment. When their contributions are not fully recognized or they see mediocrity being accepted, they may seek opportunities elsewhere, leading to a talent drain that can be detrimental to the organization’s future.

High performers, who thrive on challenges and accountability, often find themselves frustrated in a family culture. They crave environments where standards are upheld, accountability is a shared responsibility, and mediocrity isn’t the status quo. In  family cultures, decision-making processes tend to be slower, change is approached with caution, and the overarching sentiment is to maintain harmony, even if it comes at the cost of revenue growth, performance and progress.

Research has shown that organizations that prioritize open communication, constructive feedback and difficult conversations – moments that we call the Last 8% – tend to outperform their counterparts. They are more agile, adaptable, engaged and better equipped to navigate the complexities of the modern business landscape. 

Is Your Team High-Avoidance?

If avoidance is the default, teams will move too slowly and your best people will leave – it’s as simple as that. You know you’re a high-avoidance family culture if your culture is nice, but the people avoid doing hard things.  They put off critical conversations and decisions, are slow to adapt to change, or resist it entirely, and the overall performance of the team is mediocre with no accountability. A culture like this cannot skillfully navigate and leverage their Last 8% situations.

High-Avoidance vs. High-Performance

The fact is, a high-avoidance team can never be a high-performing team. When encountering Last 8% situations, we have come to find that individuals and teams that can skillfully face these difficult moments outperform those that don’t. It is the difference between a good team and a great team.

You need to move your culture from high-avoidance to high-performance. Your culture isn’t created by the values you put on a wall, but by how your leaders handle high-pressure Last 8% moments that help build what we call a Last 8% Culture – a culture characterized by high-connection and high-courage. It’s a high-performance culture that doesn’t shy away from inconvenient truths in order to be “nice.” Instead, the culture is built by how leaders handle difficult moments and conversations.

Avoidance creates a veneer of harmony, but beneath the surface, unresolved issues fester, leading to underlying tensions and inefficiencies. Such teams often struggle with alignment, as unspoken concerns and lack of clarity can result in members pulling in different directions. This misalignment can be catastrophic, especially in times of crisis or rapid market shifts, where agility, collaboration, resilience and unity are paramount.

It’s for these reasons that organizations must aim for the upper right-hand quadrant of our Last 8% Culture Map, and embody a Last 8% Culture. This quadrant represents a high-performance blend of high-connection and high-courage. In such a culture, teams are not only closely connected, fostering a sense of belonging and mutual respect, but they also exhibit the courage to tackle tough issues head-on, to challenge one another, name inconvenient truths, and push for excellence.  It’s in a Last 8% Culture where organizations find the perfect balance between innovation, growth, and opportunity to excel in today’s dynamic business landscape.

If you want to learn more about getting away from a family culture and embracing the Last 8%, download our checklist for becoming a high-performance culture.

Download the Checklist for a High-Performance Culture

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