How to avoid a vulture culture

Oct 27 2010 by Tim Lambert Print This Article

Do you work in an organisation that seems to feed on itself, picking over the bones of failure and blaming everyone else, rather than itself? Do you sometimes find yourself wondering what it would be like to work freely without the fear of a hungry hoover hovering above, waiting for you to mess up? Or is your company so paralysed by indecision because no-one wants to stand up and raise their head above the parapet?

If any of these sound familiar, you might be in the grip of a Vulture Culture.

Vulture Cultures are particularly damaging because the enemy is within, and not always easy to pinpoint. Slowly, over time, the organisation behaviour becomes one of back-biting, bullying, baiting, battling, and blame. People become afraid, always looking over their shoulder, always on the look-out for somewhere to hide. But it's subtle and gradual, and the predator often isn't spotted before it strikes.

Personally, I've got nothing against vultures frankly, I think they've received a bad press. They might lack the cuddly fluffy feel of a kitten, but they do fulfil a fairly vital function in nature.

The trouble is, you really don't want them hanging about your water cooler or getting too close to your business. Vultures are messy eaters, and it's not a pretty sight seeing them hack away at a company carcass.

In times of recession, it is more important than ever to eradicate in-fighting and get your organisation pulling together constructively. Leave the Vulture Culture outside, cold and hungry. Whatever you do, don't invite it in!

Fortunately, there is a simple enough remedy for the Vulture Culture (which is perhaps why so few people have tried it!), and it begins with looking at the way organisations make decisions.

The Science of Cultures
Science tells us that left to their own devices, cultures will grow and develop organically, whether in the petri dish or in the boardroom. And not always in the direction we would wish.

The challenge lies in correctly identifying the negative culture, and then taking positive action to shape it so that it acts as a catalyst for growth rather than a vehicle for self-destruction.

And it really helps to identify where the culture is growing from - what combination of cells and elements are contributing to the way it cultivates and develops?

If you ask the question, "what are the biggest internal issues you face within your organisation?", you'll get a variety of responses. These might include 'communication', or 'politics', or 'blame culture', or 'we're too risk-averse', or 'slowness to react', or 'lack of accountability'.

It doesn't take an Einstein to realise that all these responses have as their root cause something to do with weak and ineffective decision-making. It's prime feeding ground for the vulture culture to flourish.

So what's going to keep the Vulture Culture at bay, and how can you create an organisation culture that is exemplified by great decision making?

Bad decision-making feeds cultures that are highly damaging to the long-term prospects and short-term operation of any organisation. You may recognise some of them in your own company organism.

The Culture of Atrophy - Where no-one makes any decision, because they think someone else should do.

The Culture of Chaos - Where everyone tries to make a decision even though they don't have a right to do so, and decisions have to be un-made or remade later.

The Culture of Accord - Where no-one will make any decision until they have wrapped themselves in the security blanket of the widest possible consultation.

The Culture of Caution - Where people are so afraid to get it wrong, that they brood for too long before taking any action, by which time their competitors have stolen a march on them and the opportunity has passed.

Of course, it's possible that within any organisation, all of these Cultures are in evidence at any one time. Collectively, they are the Vulture Culture.

Where people fundamentally lack any understanding of what authority they or their colleagues have to act or make decisions, the rot sets in. It's a recipe for disaster but, fortunately there is a better recipe to follow.

Keeping the Vulture Culture Away
When you feel the vultures circling overhead, don't wait for the feasting to begin. Take positive action. Here are five simple remedies to positively shape the way decisions are made and make way for a new Culture of Construction.

1. Develop & Articulate Decision-Making Rules that guide the way people and teams make their decisions. Don't leave it to chance or assume that unspoken rules will do. See below for examples. 2. Introduce a company-wide, systematic Decision-Making process. 'DARE to Decide' is a process we have developed that describes four stages in a sequence which, if followed, increases your chances of making good and courageous decisions.

  • Diagnose (Recognise that a decision is needed; work out who needs to be involved and who needs to take it; and be explicit about your decision criteria)
  • Analyse (Gather just enough information; generate ideas and test them against your decision criteria before making your choice)
  • Reveal (Communicate your decision and your reasons for making it to the people who will be affected by it)
  • Evaluate (Make sure you review and learn from the process and from the outcome).

3. Be explicit about every employee's authority to decide. This means, letting people know through their role profiles, job descriptions and performance management reviews, the boundaries of their decision making authority, and the point at which a decision needs to be referred elsewhere.

4. Delegate routine decisions. Identify what is a routine decision and formally authorise people to get on with it, so that they don't feel they have to seek permission to take basic action.


1.Members of a team who are unable to attend a meeting mandate those members who can attend to make the decision on their behalf.

2. Non-attendees (who are part of the decision-making team) waive their right to challenge the decision after the event, as long as they have been given a chance to make their views known in advance.

3. Once decisions are made within the team, the WHOLE TEAM will stand by that decision and actively support its roll-out.

5. Always schedule Learning Reviews. Take time to benefit from past experience and do this as a team, as a department, and as a company. Share the learning broadly rather than keeping it to yourself. Remember, that some of the greatest achievements have been as a result of initial failures, but only where reflection and learning takes place.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and cultures will propagate of their own accord in order to fill vacant space. So it's only by taking decisive and concerted action against poor decision-making that you'll be able to create a Culture of Construction where people are clear about the level of authority, responsibility and accountability they wield , decisions are made at the right time by the right people in the right way with the right result and re-visiting old decisions becomes a thing of the past.

Remember, vultures hover when they spot weakness. They know that when you're on your knees, it's time to start praying! So it's your decision whether you want to become prey, or soar to new heights and by doing so, keep that Vulture Culture at bay.


About The Author

Tim Lambert
Tim Lambert

Tim Lambert is the founding Director of UK-based Kay-Lambert Associates Limited, a people & organisation development consultancy.

Older Comments

Awesome article and suggestions.

Don Lilly Shadows of Lambeau