Does your company suffer from Organizational Cancer

In 2017 I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. After different treatments and surgeries, I am now in remission. 

What I noticed in working with organizations and my clients, they had a different kind of cancer. Organizational cancer. 

Unproductive meetings. Lack of collaboration. A controlling boss. Constant turnover. People saying one thing and doing something else. 

Does any of this sound familiar? Have you experienced this?

You might be dealing with a cancerous culture and you can get your organizational culture in remission as well!

Imagine you go out diving in the ocean. You see the fish, the coral, maybe a shipwreck but do you see the water?

You know it’s there but you can’t see it.

That is culture! It’s there but it’s invisible.

Only 19% of executives believe their company has the right culture and fewer than 1 in 3 report they understand their organization’s culture. They know the culture is important, but they don’t understand it.

Culture is a live organism. One bad cell can multiply and spread. That’s how culture can grow cancerous and it will be very difficult to contain if you don’t do something about it.

The spreading of the cancer happens at 3 levels:

The individual level: As a leader, you are a role model. The leader’s shadow falls long. Others will look at you for guidance and cues on how to behave. If you set the wrong example, it can quickly have a negative impact on the culture.

Team level. When working in teams one of the biggest dangers to your culture is operating in silos. Missing opportunities to leverage the knowledge of others in the organization

Organizational level. When an organization believes in their product or service so much, they can lose sight of their customers and what is most valuable to them.

How do you fight the organizational cancer when it spreads throughout your organization? I will share two strategies that you can start to practice and implement right away.


When you are stuck in your jar, you can’t read the label and when you can’t read the label you’re missing an outside view or different perspective.

On the individual level get out of your head! As humans we make up so many stories (eg why someone hasn’t responded to an email). Then we hold those stories to be true and then we forget we made up those stories. Get curious. What are you not seeing? 

At the team level. Look around. Leverage others. Create cross functional teams. You don’t know what you don’t know. 

Organizational level. Create a map of your stakeholders. Including employees, vendors, customers etc. and make sure that in every decision each of the stakeholders has a seat at the table and is part of the conversation. I know of a few organizations who add an extra chair to the meeting room to make sure the customer is not forgotten. 

The second strategy 

Don’t become a victim of your circumstances. 

By a show of hands, has anyone ever been in a meeting where someone shows up late? It happens all the time, this is not unique to your organization. 

The typical answer you probably get is probably something like this “Oh, I was stuck in traffic”, “my previous meeting ran late”. We’ve all heard those. 

These are only part of the story; it makes you innocent. 

The price of innocence is powerlessness. We surrender control by blaming external factors, we give our power away. 

The better answer to the question of what you could have done differently would be “I didn’t leave early enough considering traffic”. 

This answer is much more difficult, because now you are accountable and by leaving early, you’re empowered. Focus on what is in your control

Change happens, when you implement new behaviors consistently and over time. 

One conversation, one action at a time.

Battling cancer, whether it is in the body or in an organization is never easy. A positive attitude (focus on what is in your control) and seeking help (getting out of the jar) will put you well on your way to survive, thrive and grow.

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