How A Tumour Taught Me About Company Culture Development

Integrative Health Care And Company Culture Development

Last autumn my best friend Louise* had a major health scare that was cured by integrative health care practices, between Western and Chinese Medicine. Her story inspired me to reconsider the way that we “cure” company culture challenges, and modify my company’s approach to company culture development.

The Lump

In October 2015 Louise felt a lump growing in her neck. She’s a busy mom with four young children, a full time job, and a husband with heart problems, so she did as many women do when they’re faced with a health scare; she ignored the problem. Louise believed that it would go away on its own if she took better care of herself and reduced her stress levels, and drank green smoothies.

Over the busy Christmas season the lump grew and grew until one night Louise felt like she was suffocating, and she finally decided that she couldn’t ignore it any longer.

The Doctor

When Louise finally went to see a specialist he performed a rush biopsy, then diagnosed her with a pre-cancerous tumor and declared that it must be removed along with her entire thyroid. The doctor scheduled the surgery for the following month, and sent Louise home with nothing but instructions to rest and relax.

The Alternative Therapy

Not one to “rest and relax”, Louise sought a second opinion with a Chinese medicine practitioner. He prescribed a strict regimen of Chinese medicine in an awfully smelly tea made of herbs, bark, roots and leaves.

It was disgusting to drink, but it worked. Louise measured the circumference of her neck every week, and as she consumed the tea, her tumor appeared to shrink.

The Results

Three and a half weeks later Louise scheduled a pre-surgery appointment with her doctor. When he scanned the tumor he was astonished; it had shrunk to a quarter of it’s previous size. He promptly canceled her surgery and began to investigate the Chinese medicinal tea that Louise used to shrink her tumor.

The Integrative Healthcare Solution

The Chinese bark, roots and herb tea did wonders, and although the tumor continued to shrink, it did not completely disappear.

Four months after her diagnosis Louise underwent a minor outpatient procedure to remove the remains of her tumor, leaving her thyroid intact, and sparing her a lifetime of synthetic drugs and hormonal imbalances caused by thyroid removal

How the tumor made me reflect on company culture development

Companies ignore their “lumps” because they’re busy doing what they think is the “real work” of their business.

At Dovetail we work with lots of companies that are busy busy busy, and ignoring their own deeply rooted, possibly highly problematic “pre-cancerous tumors”. These “tumors” are issues at the very core of their organizations, deeply rooted in their company culture. Louise’s occasional exercise and green smoothies were healthy and they felt good, but they didn’t make a drastic change in her health, just as a one-off team building event, retreat, or keynote speech leaves employees feeling good for a moment, but doesn’t effect major change in most organizations.

If you wait until you’re being choked by a problem with your culture, you might have to hack it out of your company.

Companies that wait until their culture issues are choking their business are often left with one solution – cutting out the problem by firing talented people with specialized skill sets. Not only do they lose talented employees, but they lose the work that they did, and they waste valuable time and resources recruiting, hiring, and training new employees. Estimates of the cost of firing an employee run as high as 150% of annual salary.

Integrative solutions are much more effective than stand-alone solutions.

When we approach culture development in the same way as integrative health care, we can see that integrative solutions are far more effective than stand-alone workshops, keynotes, or short-term organizational changes.

Long-term integrative solutions for the win.

When facilitators and consultants collaborate to support a company’s culture development, they’re able to build upon one another’s’ programs, and capitalize on their deeper understanding of each other’s specializations. It’s helpful to see each individual component of a culture development plan, such as an offsite team building day, leadership workshop, or management retreat, as a kind of microcosm, a “play within a play”. Short workshops and events are only impactful when they’re fully integrated into the team’s long-term goals and objectives

At Dovetail, we believe in a long-term, integrated approach to culture development. We offer shorter assessments, workshops, and team building programs as introductions to our services, and we work to build long-lasting and highly impactful relationships between our specialist facilitators and our clients.

We’d love to hear from you! How’s your company culture? Do you have any “tumors” lurking in the body of your business? If so, what’s your integrative treatment plan for developing a healthy, high performance culture?


If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your colleagues and your social media network, and start the #cultureconnection

Join us on May 12 at #cultureconnect at Shopify in Toronto, and build your company culture to boost your bottom line. Contact us for more information.


Author: Alexis Dean

Alexis Dean is the founder of Dovetail Canada, an organizational development company based in Toronto, Canada. Alexis and her team of specialist facilitators follow a three-part system for culture development, including assessment, strategic culture planning, and a wide range of workshops and events.

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