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Resources - Organization Cultures
Organizational Cultures

Think ALL organizations are alike? Just as people have their own nuances, quirks and idiosyncracies, a collection of like-minded individuals united for a cause is called an organization.

The Tough-Guy Macho Culture
The Work Hard/Play Hard Culture
The Bet your Company Culture
The Process Culture
The Power Culture
The Role Culture
The Task Culture
The Person Culture
Edgar Schein Organizational Culture Classifications
The Blame Culture
The Multi-directional Culture
The Live and Let Live Culture
The Brand Congruent Culture
The Leadership Enriched Culture
Entrepreneurial Culture
The Communal Culture
The Networked Culture
The Mercenary Culture
The Fragmented Culture
Work to Live OR Live to Work Culture

Organizational culture describes the attitudes, experiences, beliefs and values of an organization. It has been defined as "the specific collection of values and norms that are shared by people and groups in an organization and that control the way they interact with each other and with stakeholders outside the organization."

Strong cultures within an organization bind the team together with a common mission and shared vision whereas weak cultures require more management oversight to keep team members aligned with organizational objectives. An easy way to tell how engaged your team members are in the organization values is in the way they talk. Have the majority of employees moved up from the "Me" to "Us" mentality within their organizational speak? Being in the "Me" ranks may indicate disengagement and alienation whereas the "we/us" talk is usually a good indicator of shared values, mission and purpose. How can you achieve this team synergy effectively?

Whether it is our church, our company, our school, our family or the companies with whom we interact… there is a perceptible organizational culture that defines:

1. People's belief in what they do
2. People's satisfaction in what they accomplish
3. People's achievements
4. People's contributions
5. People's interaction genuiness with others
6. Personal recognition for a a job well done
7. Freedom of thought, and expression
8. Whether people "talk the talk" AND "walk the talk"
9. Opportunities for growth and advancement
10. Peoples democratic or authoritarian habits

Based on organizational culture... employees, parishioners, students, sport fans, customers, suppliers, doctors, patients, scientists, engineers, etc. will all react according to their adopted, or perceived, culture. This human tendency can either be pleasant, inspiring or even disappointing and draining.

Several methods have been used to classify organizational culture over the years. Some of these are described below by their respective authors. See if you can identify which cultures are evident in your own circles of engagement and in the process you may understand why you are either right at home, or way out of place.

Deal and Kennedy Classifications

In their classic 1982 book, "Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life," Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy proposed one of the first models of organizational culture. Deal and Kennedy defined organizational culture as "the way things get done around here."
They measured organizations with respect to:
  • Feedback - quick feedback means an instant response.
  • Risk - represents the degree of uncertainty in the organization's activities.

Using these parameters, they were able to suggest four classifications of organizational culture:

Tough-Guy Macho Culture

Feedback is quick and the rewards are high. This often applies to fast moving financial activities such as brokerage, but could also apply to a police force, or athletes competing in team sports. This can be a very stressful culture in which to operate.

Work Hard/Play Hard Culture

The Work Hard/Play Hard Culture is characterized by few risks being taken, all with rapid feedback. This is typical in large organizations, which strive for high quality customer service. It is often characterized by team meetings, jargon and buzzwords.

Bet your Company Culture

The Bet your Company Culture, where big stake decisions are taken, but it may be years before the results are known. Typically, these might involve development or exploration projects, which take years to come to fruition, such as oil prospecting or military aviation.

Process Culture

The Process Culture occurs in organizations where there is little or no feedback. People become bogged down with how things are done, not with what is to be achieved. This is often associated with bureaucracies. While it is easy to criticize these cultures for being overly cautious or bogged down in red tape, they do produce consistent results, which is ideal in, for example, public services.

Charles Handy Classifications

Charles Handy (1985) popularized the 1972 work of Roger Harrison which some scholars used to link organizational structure to Organizational Culture. He describes Harrison's four types as follows:

Power Culture

A Power Culture which concentrates power among a few. Control radiates from the center like a web. Power Cultures have few rules and little bureaucracy; swift decisions can ensue.

Role Culture

In a Role Culture people have clearly delegated authorities within a highly defined structure. Typically, these organizations form hierarchical bureaucracies. Power derives from a person's position and little scope exists for expert power.

Task Culture

By contrast, in a Task Culture teams are formed to solve particular problems. Power derives from expertise as long as a team requires expertise. These cultures often feature the multiple reporting lines of a matrix structure.

Person Culture

A Person Culture exists where all individuals believe themselves superior to the organization. Survival can become difficult for such organizations, since the concept of an organization suggests that a group of like-minded individuals pursue the organizational goals. Some professional partnerships can operate as person cultures, because each partner brings a particular expertise and clientele to the firm.

Edgar Schein Organizational Culture Classifications

Edgar Schein, an MIT Sloan School of Management professor, defined organizational culture as:

A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way you perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems".

According to Schein, culture is the most difficult organizational attribute to change, outlasting organizational products, services, founders and leadership and all other physical attributes of the organization. His organizational model illuminates culture from the standpoint of the observer, described by three cognitive levels of organizational culture.

Organizational Attributes

At the first and most cursory level of Schein's model is organizational attributes that can be seen, felt and heard by the uninitiated observer. Included are the facilities, offices, furnishings, visible awards and recognition, the way that its members dress, and how each person visibly interacts with each other and with organizational outsiders.

Professed Culture

The next level deals with the professed culture of an organization's members. At this level, company slogans, mission statements and other operational creeds are often expressed, and local and personal values are widely expressed within the organization. Organizational behavior at this level usually can be studied by interviewing the organization's membership and using questionnaires to gather attitudes about organizational membership.

Tacit Assumptions

At the third and deepest level, the organization's tacit assumptions are found. These are the elements of culture that are unseen and not cognitively identified in everyday interactions between organizational members. Additionally, these are the elements of culture which are often taboo to discuss inside the organization. Many of these 'unspoken rules' exist without the conscious knowledge of the membership. Those with sufficient experience to understand this deepest level of organizational culture usually become acclimatized to its attributes over time, thus reinforcing the invisibility of their existence. Surveys and casual interviews with organizational members cannot draw out these attributes--rather much more in-depth means is required to first identify, then understand organizational culture at this level. Notably, culture at this level is the underlying and driving element often missed by organizational behaviorists.

Using Schein's model, understanding paradoxical organizational behaviors becomes more apparent. For instance, an organization can profess highly aesthetic and moral standards at the second level of Schein's model while simultaneously displaying curiously opposing behavior at the third and deepest level of culture. Superficially, organizational rewards can imply one organizational norm but at the deepest level imply something completely different. This insight offers an understanding of the difficulty that organizational newcomers have in assimilating organizational culture and why it takes time to become acclimatized. It also explains why organizational change agents usually fail to achieve their goals: underlying tacit cultural norms are generally not understood before would-be change agents begin their actions.

Merely understanding culture at the deepest level may be insufficient to institute cultural change because the dynamics of interpersonal relationships (often under threatening conditions) are added to the dynamics of organizational culture while attempts are made to institute desired change.

Arthur F. Carmazzi Classifications

Arthur Carmazzi, one of Asia's Renowned Author and Keynote Motivational Leadership Speaker offers the following culture classifications:

Blame Culture

This culture cultivates distrust and fear, people blame each other to avoid being reprimanded or put down, this results in no new ideas or personal initiative because people don't want to risk being wrong.

Multi-directional Culture

This culture cultivates minimized cross-department communication and cooperation. Loyalty is only to specific groups (departments). Each department becomes a clique and is often critical of other departments which in turn creates lots of gossip. The lack of cooperation and Multi-Direction is evident in the organization's inefficiency.

Live and Let Live Culture

This culture is Complacent. It manifests Mental Stagnation and Low Creativity. People here have little future vision and have given up their passion. There is average cooperation and communication and things do work, but they do not grow. People have developed their personal relationships and decided who to stay away from, there is not much left to learn.

Brand Congruent Culture

People in this culture believe in the product or service of the organization, they feel good about what their company is trying to achieve and cooperate to achieve it. People here are passionate and seem to have similar goals in the organization. They use personal resources to actively solve problems and while they don’t always accept the actions of management or others around them, they see their job as important. Most everyone in this culture is operating at the level of the group.

Leadership Enriched Culture

People view the organization as an extension of themselves, they feel good about what they personally achieve through the organization and have exceptional cooperation. Individual goals are aligned with the goals of the organization and people will do what it takes to make things happen. As a group, the organization is more like family providing personal fulfillment which often transcends ego so people are consistently bringing out the best in each other. In this culture, Leaders do not develop followers, but develop other leaders. Most everyone in this culture is operating at the level of the Organization.

Entrepreneurial Culture

An Entrepreneurial Organizational Culture (EOC) is a model of organizational culture that predicts revenue from new sources. It is a system of shared values, beliefs and norms of members of an organization that includes valuing creativity and tolerance of creative people. The EOC innovates and seizes market opportunities enhancing survival and prosperity overcoming environmental uncertainty and competitors threats.

Elements of Entrepreneurial Culture
  • People and empowerment focused
  • Value creation through innovation and change
  • Attention to the basics
  • Hands-on management
  • Doing the right thing
  • Freedom to grow and to fail
  • Commitment and personal responsibility
  • Emphasis on the future
Other Organizational Cultures

Communal Culture

A communal culture can give its members a sense of belonging, though it also is task-driven. Leaders of this culture are usually very inspirational and charismatic. The major negative is that they often exert too much influence and other members are rarely vocal.

Networked Culture

In a networked culture, members are treated as friends and family. People have close contact with each other and “love” each other. They are willing to help each other and share information. The disadvantage of this culture is that people are so kind to each other that they are reluctant to point out and criticize poor performance.

Mercenary Culture

A mercenary culture focuses on strict goals. Members are expected to meet the goals and to get the job done quickly. Since everyone focuses on goals and objectivity, there is little room for political cliques. The negative is that those with poor performance may be treated inhumanely.

Fragmented Culture

In a fragmented culture, the sense of belonging to and identification with the organization is usually very weak. The individualists constitute the organization, and their commitment is given first to individual members and task work. The downside is that there is a lack of cooperation.

(The above is summarized from a variety of online and preprinted materials/sources)

Work to Live or Live to Work Cultures

Cultures in different countries have different expectations of work. These expectations are often carried over into the host country where we reside. Listed below are the average number of hours worked per week. Is it better to have a "Work to Live" culture or is better to have a "Live to Work" culture?


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German Proverb

We judge ourselves by our motives and others by their actions.
Dwight Morrow, American businessman, ambassador and senator

If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will.
Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President

Though all society is founded on intolerance, all improvement is founded on tolerance.
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