In an organization at the contemptuous level, management really believes that it's already following best practices no matter how blatant the signs are that something is wrong. If management thinks everything is fine and ignores hard facts that things are not as they should be, then that is clearly a contemptuous environment. New employees are just expected to know what the best practices are and to follow them. Every excuse is made for why there are problems except for the fact that the processes being used are wrong. If enough people band together saying that processes need to be improved, management will quash it on the grounds that people should spend time "working." Official processes do not need to be established because they serve no purpose in an organization where the workers are skilled at what they do. In this type of organization, an employee not in a management position –- where he or she can try to change the culture -– has only one option: Get out!
An undermining organization directly sabotages itself. The completion of any project seems even more impressive considering the struggles faced to get there. Whenever examples of how another organization was successful are brought forward, counter examples are presented as to how they failed in some regard. By doing this, implementing and following better processes internally can be met with derision and as serving no purpose. A project that goes smoothly and meets schedule, scope, and budget goals will receive little or no recognition next to the project that fails to meet any of those goals and has only marginal success. Projects and team members are praised where some form of success can be identified while the rest can be seen as a failure. A response of "Way to go team! We delivered the software on time and on budget!" for a project that does not match the originally stated feature requirements might be heard in an undermining organization. Like a contemptuous organization, this type of status is cultural and is not likely to change. Again, for the employee not in a position to effect real change, it's best to leave rather than burn out.
Now, for those of you reading this who are leaders of your organization, I doubt you've made it this far if your organization is at the contemptuous or undermining levels. If you're still reading, you can likely remember a job where you faced these issues or you want some more ideas on how to bring about real change. While negligent and obstructive organizations can be overcome through leadership and relationship management, contemptuous and undermining organizations are very much a part of the organizational culture at all levels. People in those types of organizations are taking active steps to ensure that things stay the same.
Is that the kind of struggle you want to have? It might take sitting down with each member of the organization individually, talking about the issues, and asking whether they are willing to be a part of real change. If not, then they need to be told to find another job. Otherwise, they will simply continue to sabotage any potential success you may have.
Mike Bohlmann has more than 10 years' experience as a Web developer and an IT manager. He's currently an IT manager at the University of Illinois where he is in the process of completing work toward his master's degree. Mike's research is focused on IT management, leadership, and services.