Football season may be over but the NFL is still making the news. In November a bullying scandal was brought to light involving the Miami Dolphins. This started an investigation into the locker room culture which concluded in February. The investigation revealed some disturbing philosophies and ended in termination of two Dolphin’s employees. The owner of the Dolphins, Steve Ross, was shocked to hear about the behavior described in the investigation report, claiming it went against the very core values of the organization.  So what happened – how did he not know his team environment was so negative?

Let’s examine the results of the report to point out how the culture came to be and how it can be avoided. There are three key findings that defined the Dolphin’s locker-room culture: Leadership, support and Ideology. All of these have a direct effect on company culture.

1. Leadership – The investigation revealed that two employees, longtime trainer and the offensive line coach, only added to the problem. There were many times they over looked the harassment and told the players to toughen up or stand up for themselves. At times they even joined in on the “fun” by laughing at cruel jokes.  This is the main reason offensive line coach Jim Turner was fired.

 What it does to Company Culture: In this situation we see that the leadership of the locker room set the tone for the culture instead of the leadership of the organization.

 How to avoid this: As the leader of a company it is important to designate specific leadership to build the company culture you desire. Don’t rely solely on that person – talk to your employees; they will be the biggest indication that something is wrong, use that to your advantage. This will help you detect a problem and build trust with your employees – only improving the company culture.

 2. Support – The report showed that the team members who felt bullied also felt like they had no support from management. Newer to the team than most – rookies, assistants and trainers often laughed at their own expense because they were scared to come forward. But why? Isolation, this was proved by the way Turner treated Martin after he came forward; instead of support Turner only pressured Martin to “be a man of character” and “set the record straight”.

 What it does to Company Culture: A lack of support shown from an organization has a very negative effect on the work environment. Employees need to feel safe at work especially when they have a problem.

 How to avoid this: Training is an important part of establishing company culture. Proper training on sensitivity and harassment not only would help leaders but inadvertently show the organizations stance on the issue. Also, set a policy for reporting issues and train leaders on how to handle it without judgment. Employees need to know they will be heard and taken seriously; communication and support will only build a better environment and strengthen the culture.

 3. Ideology – The most disturbing part of the Dolphin’s investigation was the ideology of the locker room. The offensive coach discouraged complaints, in fact he referred to those who did as a “Judas” or basically a traitor. Harassment was not only tolerated but encouraged through laughter and lack of support when inappropriate behavior was apparent.

 What it does to Company Culture: Work place philosophies are very important to company culture. Like the leader the ideas of that leader set a tone. If you have a negative person you have a negative environment and same goes for positive.

 How to avoid this: This is where you as the head of a company clearly state the organizations values and make sure those values stick in the environment. Make it clear, create policies to enforce it and never stop listening. Nothing is better than a company with great core values and a positive environment.

Key points to remember:

  • Leadership will set the tone of your culture.
  • Employees need to feel supported.
  • Training will convey exactly what you want the environment to be like.
  • Ideology will either draw in employees or drive them away.
  • When all else fails: LISTEN.

To read more about the Dolphin’s investigation and outcomes click here.

Remember there is no better indicator of a problem within a company than an employee. Make sure they feel supported and safe and you will catch a toxic person before the news does. Know of similar situations? We would love to hear your stories and advice in the comments below.



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