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3 Ways to Combat Toxic Tech Culture

It’s highly probable that your organization’s culture is at the root of your technology challenges. Discover 3 ways to combat toxic tech culture before it festers.

The hard truth? You need to look in the mirror. Your non-profit’s culture is at the root of many of the challenges you face.

What Does a Toxic Technology Culture Look Like?

You’re reading this blog because you know you have a problem with your technology. Maybe you can’t quite figure out why your non-profit is struggling in this area. Does one of the examples below describe your situation?

  1. Our software has a bad reputation at our organization.
  2. We’ve tried to implement new software but failed to launch, maybe even multiple times with multiple vendors.
  3. We know we could be getting more out of our technology but don’t know where to start.
  4. Everything must go through IT.
  5. We have redundant systems doing the same things for different departments.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Membership organizations are continually struggling to make the most out of their technology investments. With limited resources, non-profits need to maximize the use of staff, technology, and budgets.

“Toxic technology describes the harmful characteristics caused by poor design, or neglect. Poor design is common, in an industry where outputs are often favoured over outcomes. Neglect is systemic, caused by short-termist cultures, processes and practices which inhibit sustainability.”

Dave Rogers, Series: Toxic Technology


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Free Guide: The True Cost of Toxic Technology

An organization's tech stack plays a crucial role in the success (and struggles) of pursuing its mission and yearly goals. If you're not meeting your organizational goals, could it be because you're in a toxic technology environment? 



3 Ways to Combat Toxic Tech Technology

1. Reflect on your organizational culture

This is your starting point. If you’re not willing to take a hard look here, then you’re going to continue to get the results you are now. Change is hard, we understand that. The culture is driving the decisions, assumptions, mindsets, biases, norms and practices that make up your organization. Let’s look at some of the areas for you to reflect on.

Team members collaborating

Management culture

In a toxic technology environment staff are less comfortable speaking up, making suggestions or trying to improve things. Management operates in a command-and-control mode. In a positive environment we see a culture of continuous performance improvement and staff are regularly finding ways to improve. Projects start with the goal “increase member retention” instead of the solution “build a member website”.


Departmental silos

Real or perceived, some groups will feel better supported than others. You know that department that’s always last on the technology project list? Those staff will feel less empowered, less likely to speak up or feel like they can effect change. For larger distributed organizations, does technology support the edges of the organization or just the core? Look at your organization, does it operate as a whole, or is it a bunch of different departments striving for success in their own area?

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Lack of technical skills

Not every staff member needs to be an IT person, but in today’s world technology is driving everything. Staff with limited technical skills and knowledge will stay in their comfort zone. If they only know Excel, guess how every report is getting run and generated?


Technology bias

Staff in your organization may come from 5 or more decades, Boomers to Gen X to Millenials to Gen Z. Our pre-existing mindsets are based on our life experiences, so Gen Zs entering the workforce now will not look at technology the same way that the other generations do.

You can also see pre-existing mindsets in staff who have been around for a while. Because they have used one system, they assume they know how to use another one. They don’t bother with training because they already know everything. Then when something doesn’t work the way they assumed, they blame technology.

Bias can be seen in multiple ways in a toxic technology environment. Perhaps it takes the form of a new manager who worked with specific software at his last organization and therefore has to have it at his new one. It’s the organizational culture that has instilled a bias for or against various technologies. Organizations can be found to onboarding these biases with new staff and addressing those embedded biases becomes difficult.


Behavioral norms and practices

It’s the way we do things here. Strong, documented processes can have a positive impact while a lack of processes is chaos. This also comes back to a culture of continuous performance improvement. Are you doing something because it’s always been done that way? Do we question why we do things, especially when it’s obvious that things could be better? We have experience with organizations who would use an event program for their event registrations, then export that to Excel and then manually validate that each of the 800 attendees was a member or non-member to make sure they paid the correct rate. That staff member didn’t feel empowered and didn’t think to ask why they were doing it that way and if could there be a better way.


Outdated technology

Of course, the last one could be that the technology is old and outdated. Has the organization kept up with technology or lagged? The mass movement to cloud-based systems has been a recognition that technology moves too fast for each organization to keep up on their own.


2. Assess your organizational maturity level

Much like in our own lives, we know what we should be doing to take care of our well-being, but we fail to prioritize it. We know we should eat better, exercise more, and spend less, but those things can be hard, and often require changes in our behavior, and maybe some sacrifices. Organizations fall into this same trap. We know that we should document our business processes or take training but who has time for that? We have to get the membership invoices out the door yesterday.

This is an opportunity for your executive team to reflect on these areas, look in the mirror and decide that it’s time to make some changes. Call this a fitness test for your organization. There are 7 best practice areas that we ask organizations to assess themselves on. By getting back to the basics you can uncover some of the root causes.

7 Areas to Assess

  1. Strategic Alignment
  2. Continuous Learning
  3. Data Accuracy
  4. Integrated Systems
  5. Defined Processes
  6. System Knowledge
  7. Digital Maturity

You can take our brief survey and use the questions to drive some discussions internally. Get back to basics, implement some best practices, and get your organization back on track.

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3. Strategy Alignment

Ensuring your association’s overall strategy aligns with your processes is critical to your success. For top performance consider these best practices.

Clear vision

Look at your mission, vision and strategic goals. Ensure that these are clearly articulated in language that is clear and unambiguous. So many strategic plans are simply lists of actions that will be taken, but fail to identify the business results that we are looking to achieve. This is the equivalent of wanting to qualify for the Boston Marathon, so you tell yourself you’ll start a 5K running program. Sure that’s something, but is it going to achieve the result you’re looking for? Taking actions alone doesn’t tell us if we are getting where we planned on going. Ask what those ambiguous words in your strategy really mean. We’re going to be efficient, effective, and innovative? Great! What does that mean?

People Discussing with a Tablet


Communicate and align

Departments need to understand their role in achieving the mission, vision, and strategic goals. Review departmental goals, if they exist, and ensure that you can clearly align them to the organizational ones. Take the opportunity to educate and remind staff about their goals and how their work supports the organization’s mission. Failure to do so is like rowing a boat without a leader. Sure, you’ll make progress, but it may not be in the direction or speed that you want. Get everybody aligned and rowing together.

happy team


Make better technology decisions

If your technology choices are not made based on their contribution to achieving strategic goals it will feel directionless. Staff may chase the latest and greatest technology and tools with no thought about the impact on the organization. This is evident in the organization who ran an in-person event for their supporters. They went as far as getting registration (outside their core system) and putting on a great event, but they failed to collect attendance at the event and the core donor system was not updated to reflect the engagement of those supporters. The event staff were patting themselves on the back for such a great event, but the organization gained no further insight into their donors.

It’s easy with technology shifts to want to jump on the next bandwagon or buzzword whether it’s fear of the competition or being left behind or because of demands from stakeholders. Coming back to your Technology Plan, ensure that the projects and technology implementation are strategically aligned. We have seen many departments left to their own decision making select redundant software packages, or make purchase decisions based on a single feature or function.



The True Cost of Toxic Technology for Member-Centric Organizations

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