Project Management

Organizational culture

last edited by: Malcolm Leith on Nov 21, 2016 10:33 AM login/register to edit this page

1 Robert A. Cooke
2 Adam Grant
3 Stephen McGuire
4 References

Organizational culture refers to culture in any type of organization including that of schools, universities, not-for-profit groups, government agencies, or business entities. In business, terms such as corporate culture and company culture are sometimes used to refer to a similar concept. The term corporate culture became widely known in the business world in the late 1980s and early 1990s.(1 and 2) Corporate culture was already used by managers, sociologists, and organizational theorists by the beginning of the 80s.(3 and 4) The related idea of organizational climate emerged in the 1960s and 70s, and the terms are now somewhat overlapping.(5 and 6) If organizational culture is seen as something that characterizes an organization, it can be manipulated and altered depending on leadership and members.(7) Culture as root metaphor sees the organization as its culture, created through communication and symbols, or competing metaphors. Culture is basic, with personal experience producing a variety of perspectives.(7) The organizational communication perspective on culture views culture in three different ways: Traditionalism: views culture through objective things such as stories, rituals, and symbols Interpretivism: views culture through a network of shared meanings (organization members sharing subjective meanings) Critical-interpretivism: views culture through a network of shared meanings as well as the power struggles created by a similar network of competing meanings

Robert A. Cooke

Robert A. Cooke defines culture as the behaviours that members believe are required to fit in and meet expectations within their organization. The Organizational Culture Inventory measures twelve behavioural norms that are grouped into three general types of cultures: Constructive cultures, in which members are encouraged to interact with people and approach tasks in ways that help them meet their higher-order satisfaction needs. Passive/defensive cultures, in which members believe they must interact with people in ways that will not threaten their own security. Aggressive/defensive cultures, in which members are expected to approach tasks in forceful ways to protect their status and security.

Constructive cultures In constructive cultures, people are encouraged to be in communication with their co-workers, and work as teams, rather than only as individuals. In positions where people do a complex job, rather than something simple like a mechanical task, this culture is efficient.[8] Achievement: completing a task successfully, typically by effort, courage, or skill (pursue a standard of excellence) (explore alternatives before acting) – Based on the need to attain high-quality results on challenging projects, the belief that outcomes are linked to one's effort rather than chance and the tendency to personally set challenging yet realistic goals. People high in this style think ahead and plan, explore alternatives before acting and learn from their mistakes. Self-actualizing: realization or fulfilment of one's talents and potentialities – considered as a drive or need present in everyone (think in unique and independent ways) (do even simple tasks well) – Based on needs for personal growth, self-fulfilment and the realization of one's potential. People with this style demonstrate a strong desire to learn and experience things, creative yet realistic thinking and a balanced concern for people and tasks. Humanistic-encouraging: help others to grow and develop (resolve conflicts constructively) – Reflects an interest in the growth and development of people, a high positive regard for them and sensitivity to their needs. People high in this style devote energy to coaching and counseling others, are thoughtful and considerate and provide people with support and encouragement. Affiliative: treat people as more valuable than things (cooperate with others) – Reflects an interest in developing and sustaining pleasant relationships. People high in this style share their thoughts and feelings, are friendly and cooperative and make others feel a part of things. Organizations with constructive cultures encourage members to work to their full potential, resulting in high levels of motivation, satisfaction, teamwork, service quality, and sales growth. Constructive norms are evident in environments where quality is valued over quantity, creativity is valued over conformity, cooperation is believed to lead to better results than competition, and effectiveness is judged at the system level rather than the component level. These types of cultural norms are consistent with (and supportive of) the objectives behind empowerment, total quality management, transformational leadership, continuous improvement, re-engineering, and learning organizations.(9)(10)(11) Passive/defensive cultures Norms that reflect expectations for members to interact with people in ways that will not threaten their own security are in the Passive/Defensive Cluster. The four Passive/Defensive cultural norms are:

  • Approval
  • Conventional
  • Dependent
  • Avoidance
In organizations with Passive/Defensive cultures, members feel pressured to think and behave in ways that are inconsistent with the way they believe they should in order to be effective. People are expected to please others (particularly superiors) and avoid interpersonal conflict. Rules, procedures, and orders are more important than personal beliefs, ideas, and judgment. Passive/Defensive cultures experience a lot of unresolved conflict and turnover, and organizational members report lower levels of motivation and satisfaction. Aggressive/defensive cultures This style is characterized with more emphasis on task than people. Because of the very nature of this style, people tend to focus on their own individual needs at the expense of the success of the group. The aggressive/defensive style is very stressful, and people using this style tend to make decisions based on status as opposed to expertise.(12) Oppositional – This cultural norm is based on the idea that a need for security that takes the form of being very critical and cynical at times. People who use this style are more likely to question others work; however, asking those tough question often leads to a better product. Nonetheless, those who use this style may be overly-critical toward others, using irrelevant or trivial flaws to put others down. Power – This cultural norm is based on the idea that there is a need for prestige and influence. Those who use this style often equate their own self-worth with controlling others. Those who use this style have a tendency to dictate others opposing to guiding others' actions. Competitive – This cultural norm is based on the idea of a need to protect one's status. Those who use this style protect their own status by comparing themselves to other individuals and outperforming them. Those who use this style are seekers of appraisal and recognition from others. Perfectionistic – This cultural norm is based on the need to attain flawless results. Those who often use this style equate their self-worth with the attainment of extremely high standards. Those who often use this style are always focused on details and place excessive demands on themselves and others. Organizations with aggressive/defensive cultures encourage or require members to appear competent, controlled, and superior. Members who seek assistance, admit shortcomings, or concede their position are viewed as incompetent or weak. These organizations emphasize finding errors, weeding out "mistakes" and encouraging members to compete against each other rather than competitors. The short-term gains associated with these strategies are often at the expense of long-term growth.(12)

Adam Grant

Adam Grant, author of the book Give and Take, distinguishes organizational cultures into giver, taker and matcher cultures according to their norms of reciprocity. In a giver culture, employees operate by "helping others, sharing knowledge, offering mentoring, and making connections without expecting anything in return", whereas in a taker culture "the norm is to get as much as possible from others while contributing less in return" and winners are those who take the most and are able to build their power at the expense of others. The majority of organizations are mid-way, with a matcher culture, in which the norm is to match giving with taking, and favours are mostly traded in closed loops.(13) In a study by Harvard researchers on units of the US intelligence system, a giver culture turned out to be the strongest predictor of group effectiveness.(13) As Grant points out, Robert H. Frank argues that "many organizations are essentially winner-take-all markets, dominated by zero-sum competitions for rewards and promotions". In particular, when leaders implement forced ranking systems to reward individual performance, the organisational culture tends to change, with a giver culture giving way to a taker or matcher culture. Also awarding the highest-performing individual within each team encourages a taker culture.(13)

Stephen McGuire

Stephen McGuire (2003) defined and validated a model of organizational culture that predicts revenue from new sources. An Entrepreneurial Organizational Culture (EOC) is a system of shared values, beliefs and norms of members of an organization, including valuing creativity and tolerance of creative people, believing that innovating and seizing market opportunities are appropriate behaviors to deal with problems of survival and prosperity, environmental uncertainty, and competitors' threats, and expecting organizational members to behave accordingly. Elements

  • 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(14)


  1. "Culture is everything," said Lou Gerstner, the CEO who pulled IBM from near ruin in the 1990s.", Culture Clash: When Corporate Culture Fights Strategy, It Can Cost You, knowmgmt, Arizona State University, March 30, 2011
  2. Unlike many expressions that emerge in business jargon, the term spread to newspapers and magazines. Few usage experts object to the term. Over 80 percent of usage experts accept the sentence The new management style is a reversal of GE's traditional corporate culture, in which virtually everything the company does is measured in some form and filed away somewhere.", The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
  3. One of the first to point to the importance of culture for organizational analysis and the intersection of culture theory and organization theory is Linda Smircich in her article Concepts of Culture and Organizational Analysis in 1983. See Linda Smircich, Concepts of Culture and Organizational Analysis, Administrative Science Quarterly, Volume: 28, Issue: 3, Publisher: JSTOR, doi:10.2307/2392246, 1983, pp. 339-358
  4. "The term "Corporate Culture" is fast losing the academic ring it once had among U.S. manager. Sociologists and anthropologists popularized the word "culture" in its technical sense, which describes overall behavior patterns in groups. But corporate managers, untrained in sociology jargon, found it difficult to use the term unselfconsciously." in Phillip Farish, Career Talk: Corporate Culture, Hispanic Engineer, issue 1, year 1, 1982
  5. Halpin, A. W., & Croft, D. B. (1963). The organizational climate of schools. Chicago: Midwest Administration Center of the University of Chicago.
  6. Fred C. Lunenburg, Allan C. Ornstein, Educational Administration: Concepts and Practices, Cengage Learning, 2011, pp. 67
  7. Modaff, D.P., DeWine, S., & Butler, J. (2011). Organizational communication: Foundations, challenges, and misunderstandings (2nd Ed.). Boston: Pearson Education. (Chapters 1-6)
  8. Cooke, R. A. (1987). The Organizational Culture Inventory. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics, Inc.
  9. Schein, Edgar (1992). Organizational Culture and Leadership: A Dynamic View. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. p. 9.
  10. Deal T. E. and Kennedy, A. A. (1982, 2000) Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1982; reissue Perseus Books, 2000
  11. "Constructive Styles". Human-Synergistics. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  12. "Aggressive/Defensive Styles". Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  13. Adam Grant (April 2013). "Givers take all: The hidden dimension of corporate culture". McKinsey. Retrieved 2016-02-06.
  14. "LIndle Hatton Faculty Page".

last edited by: Malcolm Leith on Nov 21, 2016 10:33 AM login/register to edit this page

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