Sunday, 10 March 2013

Organisational Culture

Culture is shared and pervasive, it influences every aspect of organisational life”
(Ian Brooks)

Some of you have shown appreciation for academic theories in previous posts. Therefore, today I thought about recalling some concepts reported in 'Organisational Behaviour. Individuals, groups and organisations' by Ian Brooks (2009). This book investigates different subjects - such as organisational theory, motivation at work, groups and teams, management and leadership - from an academic angle (it accompanied part of my university studies in management – people in organisations).

The particular topic which these marginalia focus on is 'Organisational Culture'. It is a topic that really fascinates me and I believe that it is important for all of us who are interested in internal communications and employee engagement to explore it – other academically or in practice (better both!).

In that respect, below are some notes extrapolated from Ian Brooks's book. As always I like encouraging you to enjoy the original source more in depth, while hoping at the same time that you might find these marginalia useful in some ways.

CULTURE is a shared phenomenon and in the case of organisational culture the sharing happens at organisational level. Different organisations have different values and interpretations of things around them.

It is possible that a culture comprises more SUB-CULTURES. In this case each sub-group has its own beliefs, assumptions, norms, ceremonies, stories to tell about the organisational life and its own interpretative systems which influence its understanding of the organisational symbols.

The cultural knowledge of individuals is not identical. Individuals in a culture differ and this is in part due to personality differences. This individuals' difference leads to INTRA-CULTURAL VARIATION and as a consequence, within any culture, differences exist.

Culture is DYNAMIC, constantly EVOLVES and at the organisational level it can be learned by recruits through the process of socialisation, including training and managerial interventions.


The nature of organisational culture has consequences in many areas of the organisational life including the STRATEGY, STRUCTURE, EMPLOYEE RELATIONSHIPS, COMMUNICATIONS and the INTERPRETATION OF THE BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT.

There are many definitions of organisational culture which can be incompatible with one another along a number of dimensions. In particular:

If culture is viewed as an ORGANISATIONAL VARIABLE (Structural view), then there is an understanding that culture can and should be managed. This view suggests that a particular type of culture results from a particular set of structural criteria and implies that structural change will lead to cultural change. The management of culture is possible.

If culture is viewed AS INTERPRETATIVE (Interpretative-Symbolic view) - intangible and indistinguishable from the organisation itself - then the management and intentional change of culture is seen as a more doubtful experience. This view embraces the complexity and subjectivity of culture and rejects the idea of a causal relationships between culture and organisational structure.

However, it might be too simplistic to view culture from either of the two perspectives mentioned above, as both STRUCTURAL ad INTERPRETATIVE aspects work together in organisations.

Johnson and Scholes (1994) suggested the CULTURAL WEB paradigm, a 'way of seeing' which comprises 'hard' (STRUCTURAL) characteristics of organisational life together with 'soft' (SYMBOLIC ) ones. All aspects of organisation and behaviors of members have SYMBOLIC SIGNIFICANCE. Similarly the SYSTEMS, TANGIBLE ARTEFACTS and the ORGANISATIONAL STRUCTURE convey important information regarding the organisation.

All these SYMBOLS are interpreted by the members of the organisation and LANGUAGE has a particular symbolic significance since it helps people to understand (e.g. understand what is required and expected, what the norms and values of the organisations are, how to comply with them).

These symbols and their interpretations therefore, are at the heart of the concept of culture and may indicate a possible avenue for those organisations that would like or need to change their culture.

One rule for cultural change programmes would appear to be: 'know your culture', then change it if necessary, with having a VISION of the desired future state appearing essential in order to facilitate the purposeful change. In that respect, Brooks and Bate (1994) suggested that a successful cultural change would require among other things:
  • being aware of the present culture
  • being aware of the desired future culture
  • management of the politics of acceptance

Cultural change requires legitimisation since culture is collectively 'owned'. Therefore, attention should be paid by the organisation to the collective acceptance of the need for change. What becomes important here is the cognitive and interpretative processes by which individuals make sense of the change and as a consequence, either support it, facilitate it or seek to resist it.”

Certainly, the topic of organisational culture is vast being its theories very many. If you would like to further familiarise with the subject from an academic point of view, as mentioned above, I would suggest reading Ian Brooks's book from which this post has been inspired. The author presents a diverse range of academic studies and you might find a particular theory that better resonates with your needs and might be useful to you in practice.

Knowledge and awareness of culture improves our ability to analyse organisational behaviour in order to manage and lead”.
(Ian Brooks)