Symptoms of Organizational Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.

Updated: Apr 10, 2019

In my last blog post I suggested that many organizations suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning characterized by a systemic code of silence. That code of silence, like carbon monoxide poisoning is sucking the life breath out of the organization. So what are some of the symptoms that might help you determine whether or not this is an issue in your organization?

The Symptoms

Most lethal or potentially lethal illnesses manifest some clear and predictable symptoms. Carbon monoxide poisoning is no different. Its symptoms include headache, nausea, malaise, dizziness, fatigue, confusion, delirium, hallucinations, and unsteady gait to name just a few. Think about those symptoms as they relate to your organization.


Organizational Malaise

Organizations characterized by a culture of silence are devoid of employee engagement and passion. Absent is a strong sense of team spirit, collaboration and strategic alignment. Life is about a job not a calling. It’s about drudgery not exhilaration. It’s about making it through the day not about anticipating the next day. It’s about surviving not thriving.


Organizational Confusion

The dominant emotion in an organization characterized by a culture of silence is confusion. Decisions, expectations, metrics, performance reviews, and team interactions are always unpredictable. There is no overarching sense of vision and direction that motivates and inspires strategic alignment. Work life is a guessing game -never quite sure what to expect.

Organizational Delirium and Hallucinations

Second guessing yourself is the norm in an organization characterized by the code of silence. Deep down employees know there’s a problem but it’s not long before they begin to wonder if they’re the one who’s misreading things, imagining things that don’t really exist, characterizing situations as worse than they really are, or even losing their mind! The smart ones get out, but surprisingly, shockingly in fact, many stay! It just feels “normal”. Normal but lethal! Something or someone always dies in one sense or another.

Organizational Stagger NOT Swagger

Instead of organizational swagger, what you see is organizational stagger. These kind of organizations never make the Top ___ of any list! They may survive but they never thrive. They stagger and limp along, oblivious to the lethal disability that is hampering organizational life and effectiveness. Not even the CEO or the Executive Team are aware. If they were they would do something about it, at least it would be reasonable to expect that of them.


Your Organization

If any of these symptoms describe the culture of your organization, there’s a good chance you’re suffering from organizational carbon monoxide poisoning. It can be scary to take a look inside. If you’d like to know the relative measure of health in your organization click here to take a free organizational health assessment. In fact, have your whole team take the survey! The results may surprise you, but wouldn’t you rather know that you’re not well and have a chance to choose life than continue on the lethal path you’re heading? I don’t know about you, but I sure would. Today you have a choice. What will it be? The choice you make WILL shape your future - for better or worse! It’s up to you.


Ken Thiessen is a certified Coach with Gravitas Premium Impact Coaches. Using the Four DecisionsTM Planning Framework he works with executive leadership teams of nonprofit organizations to help them achieve strategic alignment and maximize their positive social impact. To find out how Ken can help your organization maximize its strategic alignment visit the website at or contact him at 306.531.4020 or