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How People Undermine Online Culture

If your organization is struggling to get the most out of collaborative tools, start listening to what people are saying. Do you hear things like…

“My job is fine. I don’t need to change anything.”

“Posting and commenting online makes me nervous. I am terrified I’ll say or do the wrong thing.”

“Leadership drives me crazy—they constantly buy new tools, then never use them. How will this be any different?”

“Another new tool. How will I know if I’m using it right?”

“I post stuff, but nobody responds. I might as well be posting things into a black hole.”

“It feels like a waste of time.”

All of these experiences are normal.

  • Nobody likes wasting time, struggling to make something work, or fearing that something they’ve done will cost them a promotion.
  • Work can feel like a political minefield, even without your thoughts and ideas recorded on a shared platform for everyone to see.
  • Speaking in a meeting can be intimidating, even when you aren’t being recorded on video for other team members to catch up later.

While resistance to using collaborative technology is usually due to fears or uncertainty about how jobs will be affected,* assumptions often cause people to overlook the impact of personal stories.

With people, the only thing it’s safe to assume is that you should never assume anything.

The following 3 examples include questions to help you start thinking about how personal stories can cause people to undermine online culture. These stories could also be used in a discussion with your team.

How People Undermine Online Culture


Example #1 Doubt Creeps in

People doubt themselves, they doubt other people, or they doubt the technology, so they hesitate to participate. One person’s hesitation undermines trust for many others.

Let’s imagine a typical scenario.

Amber is going to present her team’s ideas to a group of several managers. Two people are working from home, so the meeting will take place online, using a videoconferencing app.

She’s a top performer, but like many people, she doesn’t like to present. Her mind is racing. Here are some of her worries . . .

“I hate presenting. My voice always shakes.


Sometimes people ask questions that I don’t know the answers to.


I hope my slide deck looks nice enough. I wonder if I spelled everything correctly? I can’t believe I couldn’t find a less pixilated logo.


What will I look like on camera?


How does this app start? What if the video doesn’t work, or what if I can’t share my screen?


If everybody doesn’t show up on time, when should I begin?


What if the microphone appears to be working, but other people can’t hear me? What if I can’t hear them?


If one person is having technical issues and everyone else is waiting, how long do I wait before starting?


How will I manage all of this. OMG, why couldn’t this have been in person? Presenting online is too much!”

When people are stressed about using collaborative technologies, they inevitably share their thoughts with others. And Amber is not alone. Research by Chess Media Group showed that 24% of users feel overwhelmed by existing technology platforms.*


Discussion questions:

  1. Can you relate to Amber’s experience? What are some things she could do to ease some of her fears?
  2. What is the impact if a manager feels this way? How will it change the tone of the organization to hear these kinds of statements from leadership?
  3. What if one manager is saying “let’s all get comfortable with this new application” while another is quietly cursing the tools to anyone who will listen? What are the impacts to culture, then?
  4. What are the odds that people will opt in and make the most of the video-conferencing app when mixed messages are spread throughout the organization?

Example #2 Procrastination Stalls Progress

People don’t make time to learn and use new tools. One person’s procrastination undermines trust for many others.

Imagine the following case.

Dave has been asked to move documentation about his job into a new Intranet. Currently, the content lives on his computer.

If he were to win the lottery and never show up again, the information would be locked in his files. Someone would have to figure out everything about his job.

Over a period of months, Dave is asked about his progress during one-on-one meetings with his manager. Dave has said…

“I haven’t had time to move things.”


“I don’t know where to put things.” Dave’s manager showed him how to navigate to his pages several weeks ago. She shows him again.


“I am trying to think about how to organize my content.”


“I don’t want people to see my content until it’s ready.”


“I think it’s easier to upload the Word documents, so I am not pasting the copy into the pages.”

Dave isn’t using the tool correctly. The content will not be searchable. But at this point, it has been over 6 months, and Dave’s manager is just relieved to have copies of Dave’s work online.

Finally, after 8 months, Dave admits that he doesn’t know how to format the pages. He asks, “Can I use the drop-down feature, or should each topic be on a different page?”

His manager answers the question without hesitation—it’s a no brainer.

Meanwhile, months have passed. Dave’s colleagues have noticed that he isn’t moving content into the system. Several people have used this as an excuse not to use the system themselves.


Discussion questions:

  1. Why should people bother using a system, if everyone is not onboard?
  2. Could clearer expectations or a required 1-hour training have helped Dave jump in sooner?
  3. Again, what are the impacts to culture? If one person is opting out, what are the odds that other people will also opt out?

Example #3 Avoidance Reduces Uptake

People don’t log in to virtual-presence apps, so they appear unavailable. One person’s choice to opt out undermines trust for many others.

One last story, for the sake of discussion.

Chuck never logs into the organization’s chat system. He believes that by coming into work every day, he is available to everyone who matters.

His boss is considering flex-work options for the team. Several people are excited, but Chuck doesn’t plan to change how he works.

People have heard Chuck say things like…

“If someone wants to get in touch, they can come into the office or call me.”


“I don’t have time for more interruptions. Email is bad enough.”

In a recent directors’ meeting, where Chuck was presenting his work, someone took a quick poll of who is on chat. Fewer than 1/3 of the directors raised their hands.

When chuck was asked why he didn’t use chat, he said…

“I like when people stop by. It’s easier to get to the bottom of things quickly.”

Chuck’s stance seemed harmless enough, but his boss was disappointed. Here is what she thinks…

“I’d like to make a case for flex work for the people who are interested, but we can’t do it unless everyone agrees to be on chat and attend meetings via videoconferencing when someone isn’t in the office.


Chuck’s repetitive comments about not wanting to use chat are disconcerting. Also, since he admitted his preference not to use chat in the director’s meeting, it’ll be harder to convince leadership that flex work is a good idea.


Leadership won’t support flex work unless they trust that it will not change our ability to get things done.”

Most people don’t set out to undermine trust, but the smallest, seemingly innocuous interactions can have rippling effects.


Discussion questions:

  1. Should Chuck be required to start using chat?
  2. If so, why?
  3. What about all of the directors who aren’t using chat—how are their decisions impacting the organization?

In Summary—People Are Complicated

While resistance is usually due to fears or uncertainty about how jobs will be affected,* assumptions often cause people to overlook the impact of personal stories.

With people, the only thing it’s safe to assume is that you should never assume anything.

Amber’s Story

In Amber’s case, she’s motivated to produce excellent work, but she just gets nervous before presenting. Add the complication of videoconferencing, and it’s bound to feel like too much.

A little training and practice with the videoconferencing tool would go a long way to help her feel comfortable.

Dave’s Story

Dave is a little more complicated. Dave also wants to do well at work, but he’s afraid of being replaced. He’s older than most of the staff, and he makes more money than most of the staff, so he feels pressure to retire.

He’s also afraid people will post judgmental or rude comments on his pages. Dave knows that posting his documentation in the intranet should be okay, but the uncertainty he feels about his job causes him to hoard information.

Forthright discussions to help Dave understand how he will benefit could help him adjust to a more open environment.

Chuck’s Story

The real reason for Chuck’s resistance is a combination of two things. First, Chuck got the impression that everyone would have to work from home several days per week, if the proposed flex-work plan were approved.

Second, Chuck’s boss doesn’t know he is going through a divorce. Rather than tell his boss that working at home isn’t realistic for him, Chuck is hoping that if he drags his feet, his boss will drop the flex-work idea.

Since more than half of the directors are also not using chat, Chuck is encouraged that it won’t be forced onto him.

Ironically, all Chuck needs to do is say “my home isn’t a good place to work” without mentioning the divorce, and his boss would reassure him that working from home is not a requirement.

So often, people are their own worst enemies because they resist talking openly about their questions and concerns.

*Based on research. See resources.

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