top of page

The Perils of Overly Compliant Culture

Cultivating a compliant culture within a large organisation may be considered a desirable trait, and sometimes it just seems to happen as an organisation grows.

Adherence to rules, cultural norms, protocols, and established procedures naturally has its place, however, an overemphasis on compliance, especially when contrived, can lead to a host of dangers.

Overly contrived and complaint cultures can hinder innovation, creativity, and overall organisational effectiveness.

Sabre has been asked many times over the years to help design activities and interventions to assist clients who feel they have slipped into an overly contrived and compliant culture.

Great team building and leadership initiatives can help teams enhance engagement, initiative and collective innovation, but real and lasting changes need to occur in leadership and teaming behaviours.

We use the Belbin Model to identify individual and team behavioural clusters that can be understood and managed to help with real workplace performance.

Some examples of the dangers that come with overly contrived and compliant cultures, and some possible fixes are:

The Stifling of Innovation.

A conformant and compliant culture can discourage risk-taking and experimentation, which are essential for ongoing innovation in many fields. When employees feel compelled to strictly follow established protocols and cultural norms, they may shy away from projecting their natural behaviours, challenging the status-quo or proposing new ideas.

Consequently, organizations miss out on opportunities for new approaches, growth, improvement, and staying ahead in an ever-evolving landscape.

The possible fix:

To counter the stifling effect of an overly compliant culture on innovation, organizations should actively foster an environment that encourages risk-taking, experimentation, and idea generation. It takes some courage, openness and commitment from the leadership.

The ability to ‘let go’ and tolerate mistakes. Micro management needs to be managed / minimised. This can be achieved by implementing innovation programs, establishing cross-functional teams, and providing resources for research and development. Leaders should promote a growth mindset, where non-critical failure is seen as a learning opportunity rather than a cause for reprimand.

Our use of the Belbin Model and well-timed team building approaches can help to identify and work with the workplace behaviours that better enable team innovation.

Lack of Accountability:

In a compliant culture, employees may become more focused on ‘covering their butts’ / meeting compliance requirements rather than taking personal responsibility for their actions. The emphasis on following cultural norms and rules can create a sense of detachment, where individuals feel justified in keeping quiet, passing the blame or responsibility onto others, or avoiding hard conversations for risk of causing offence / drama.

This lack of accountability can lead to a decline in individual and collective performance, damaging the organization's overall effectiveness. The possible fix:

To address the issue of diminished accountability, organizations should promote a culture of ownership and personal responsibility. This can be achieved by clearly defining individual roles and expectations, setting measurable goals, and providing regular feedback.

Leaders should lead by example, demonstrating accountability and holding themselves and others responsible for their actions. Transparent communication channels should be established, allowing employees to express concerns, report issues, and contribute to decision-making processes. People need to feel psychologically safe, and not fearful of undue reprimand.

Belbin individual and team profiles help to provide an evidence-based and neutral language to openly discuss strengths, weaknesses and accountability in a workplace.

Decreased Employee Engagement:

A culture of compliance can dampen employee engagement and satisfaction. When individuals are confined to strictly defined roles and discouraged from questioning authority or suggesting improvements, they may become disengaged and demotivated. People may also feel they can’t be themselves at work, and need to supress natural behaviours.

Employees thrive when they feel empowered, trusted, and encouraged to contribute their unique perspectives and behavioural styles. Without this, organizations risk losing their most talented individuals to more innovative and inclusive environments.

Possible fix:

To combat decreased employee engagement, organizations should create an inclusive, sincere and empowering culture. This involves providing opportunities for employees to participate in decision-making, encouraging open communication, and recognizing and rewarding contributions.

Regular development programs should be implemented to enhance behavioural awareness at work, build interpersonal skills and foster career growth. Employee feedback mechanisms, such as surveys or town hall meetings, can also help gauge satisfaction levels and identify areas for improvement.

Belbin Team Role profiles help people to better and more confidently project their strengths and natural contributions at work, and to meaningfully engage with others.

Reduced Adaptability:

In today's fast-paced and dynamic environments, organisations need to be agile and adaptable. A compliant culture, however, can be rigid and resistant to change.

The focus on following predetermined processes may hinder the organization's ability to respond effectively to market shifts, emerging trends, and new opportunities. This lack of adaptability can result in missed chances for growth, loss of competitive advantage, and ultimately, stagnation.

Possible fix:

To enhance adaptability, organizations should embrace behaviours that welcome change and continuous improvement. Leaders should communicate the importance of agility and flexibility and provide resources for employees to stay updated on industry trends and market shifts.

Cross-training programs can be implemented to enhance employees' skills and broaden their knowledge base. Encouraging collaboration and teamwork across departments can also help break down silos and facilitate adaptability.

Belbin individual and team reports assist people to look past job titles, and to seek and value contributions beyond limitations and silos.

Ethical Blind Spots:

While compliance with regulations and policies is crucial, an excessive focus on compliance alone can create ethical blind spots.

Employees may prioritize ticking boxes over making morally sound decisions. Ethical considerations can take a backseat, potentially leading to misconduct, unethical behaviour, and reputational damage for the organization.

Possible fix:

To address ethical blind spots, organizations should prioritize ethics and integrity in their values and code of conduct. Ethical guidelines should be clearly communicated and reinforced through regular training programs, and by promoting ethical leaders into roles.

Encouraging open discussions about ethical dilemmas and providing channels for reporting misconduct can help create a culture of ethical awareness and accountability. Leaders should lead by example and make ethical considerations a central part of decision-making processes.

Whilst our Belbin profiles and reports don’t delve directly into ethics, the shared language of Belbin permits higher levels of psychological safety and the openness to create the channels for ethical discourses.


bottom of page