Are you a top monkey or limping lion?


If you had to describe the culture of your organisation or your team how would you describe it?

I once heard about a sales team that described themselves as being like a pride of lions.

Sales aside, does this sound like a team you’d want to be a part of? top of the food chain? majestic? powerful?

It turns out they were pretty unhappy and ineffective. They felt the environment was too hot most of the time and spent their days looking for opportunities to laze in the shade waiting for food to run by. When it did, the females would pull together and pounce on it and the males would fight over who got the biggest share. They did just enough not to go hungry but not much more. If success were a 100 metre sprint this team would be last to limp across the finish line.

I’ve worked with many teams and organisations over the years with cultural challenges of this kind. Laziness, distrust, infighting, exhaustion, favouritism, self-focus, sexism and a variety of other -isms and bad habits that had become deeply ingrained in ‘how we do things around here’.

Where there is a negative culture, there is unhappiness and suffering and that can show up in many different ways including bullying, blame and cover ups. That doesn’t end well.

Luckily, if you practise People Voodoo at work your hands are not tied.

Here are 3 steps that anyone can take to start improving the culture.

Step 1 – Turn 3 again

What is it that 3 year-olds do so well?

They ask WHY again and again and again.

Let me put this into context with a well known story.

A group of scientists put 5 monkeys in a cage, hung a bunch of bananas above them and placed a ladder in the cage that allowed them to reach the bananas.

When a monkey climbed the ladder to reach the bananas all the monkeys were sprayed with cold water.

It didn’t take long until the monkeys pulled down any monkey that tried to reach the bananas. Soon they all stopped trying.

The scientists then replaced a monkey, who unaware of the water, climbed up to the bananas only to be attacked by the other monkeys. The new monkey soon learnt not to try.

A second monkey was then substituted and the situation repeated itself with the first new monkey now joining in. The same again on a third substitution until none of the original monkeys were left in the cage.

None of these monkeys had ever been sprayed with water and yet none of them climbed the ladder or let others climb the ladder.

They didn’t know why – they just knew that this is how things are done around here!

This is not a real experiment (and no monkeys were hurt in the making of this blog) but the message is important. It’s easy just to go along with things.

You have a huge advantage over these monkeys; you can ask why everyone is missing out on bananas. Be inquisitive about why things are the way they are. If you don’t understand the root cause for the existing negativity it can be hard to change it.

Step 2 – Stop joining in

If your behaviour is respectful and appropriate then there is no harm in opting out of the negative culture. Stop beating up the monkey who is trying to climb the ladder.

Yes, this can be easier said than done – which is why there is step 3.

Step 3 – Find allies

You won’t be the only one who feels that things could be better. Find others who respond well to your more positive approach and bring them on-board.

Taking the high ground means you are vulnerable to being pulled back down by those who are comfortable with the status quo. The more of you there are to resist the pull, the more effectively you can resist it or pick yourself up if you do fall into bad habits.

When it comes to making a difference, one person practising People Voodoo is alone, two are company but three are a tipping point for change.



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