Avoid the Toxic Trap: the Toxic Matrix

Innovation is the foundation of progress and success in business. A culture of innovation is essential for companies to thrive and stay competitive. One of the biggest challenges for companies is to ensure that the culture of innovation is not overshadowed by a culture of toxicity. There are a number of potential pitfalls that must be avoided in order to create an environment that encourages creativity and collaboration. This blog will discuss these issues, as well as strategies for avoiding the Toxic Trap.

The Toxic Matrix

At its core, innovation culture is a set of values and behaviours that promote creativity, risk-taking, and collaboration. It is based on a shared sense of purpose and a commitment to achieving success through creative problem solving. It can also involve fostering an environment of trust and openness, where ideas are exchanged freely and employees are encouraged to take risks and explore new possibilities. Innovation cultures are built on trust and collaboration between employees, as well as effective communication tools. In order to foster an environment where innovation can flourish, organizations must ensure that their employees feel safe and respected. This includes creating an inclusive environment where everyone’s opinions are valued and listened to, regardless of their position or background.

However, it is important to understand that a culture of innovation can be easily derailed by negative attitudes and behaviours. A toxic environment can stifle creativity and lead to an unhealthy workplace culture. It is therefore important to understand the dynamics of toxicity in organizations and take steps to avoid it. In this regard, we are distinguishing between several different levels of toxic environments: toxicity at the leadership level, at the rules & regulations level and at the social level of organizations. Generally speaking, if leadership, rules and regulations or social structures are unhealthy or unsafe they might create a toxic environment for people to work in. They will fall into the toxic trap of corruption: they will start to show toxic behaviour to instantiate the toxic culture in itself: the reinforcing toxic loop.

Toxicity in organizations is a concept developed by organizational psychologist Dr. David Jones to describe the complex web of psychological forces that can create a toxic work environment. The Toxic Matrix show the level of toxic environment on one ash and the level of individual toxic behaviour on the other ash. Indivual toxic behaviour is formed by the so-called Dark Triad, through psychopatic, machiavellianistic and narcissistic behehaviour. Each of these components can contribute to the development of a toxic work environment if not properly managed or monitored. Organizations must therefore be aware of potential toxic personality traits in their teams. Machiavellianism is a form of manipulation that involves using deceit and manipulation to gain power or advantage over others. Narcissism is characterized by an excessive need for admiration and an inflated sense of self-importance. Psychopathic behaviour typically involves a lack of empathy or remorse, as well as a tendency towards aggressive behaviour. All of these traits can create an unhealthy work environment if not addressed properly. In addition, organizations must be aware of tipping points in toxic behaviour, which are moments when negative behaviour has become so widespread that it begins to affect the overall culture. These tipping points can be difficult to identify but are critical in preventing further damage to the organization’s culture.


The Toxic Matrix is a complex concept that can have serious consequences if not properly managed or monitored. It is essential for organizations to be aware of the potential pitfalls associated with a toxic work environment and take steps to avoid them. By building a culture of trust and collaboration, implementing effective communication tools, creating an inclusive environment, and monitoring for toxic personality traits and tipping points, organizations can ensure that their culture of innovation remains intact.

In summary, recognizing the dangers associated with the Toxic Matrix is essential for organizations looking to foster a healthy environment where creativity can thrive. By taking steps to identify and address potential sources of toxicity in the workplace, organizations can create an environment where everyone feels safe and respected, allowing them to focus on what really matters: innovating for success.

References used:

Breevaart, K. and Wisse, B. M. and Schyns, B. (2021) ‘Trapped at Work: The Barriers Model of Abusive Supervision.’, Academy of Management Perspectives.

Jonason, P. K., Slomski, S., & Partyka, J. (2012). The Dark Triad at work: How toxic employees get their way. Personality and individual differences, 52(3), 449-453.

Farmanara, P. (2021). Abusive Supervisory Behavior Aimed at Raising Work Group Performance. Journal of Management Inquiry, 30(1), 40–58.

Pelletier, K.L. (2010). Leader toxicity: An empirical investigation of toxic behavior and rhetoric. Leadership, 6, 373 – 389.

D’Souza, Márcia & Lima, Gerlando & Jones, Daniel & Carre, Jessica. (2019). Do I win, does the company win, or do we both win? Moderate traits of the Dark Triad and profit maximization. Revista Contabilidade & Finanças.

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