The World of Work Project

Organizational Culture

Organizational Culture is the term used to describe what it feels like to work within an organization. It encompasses the values, behaviors, beliefs and ways of working of an organizations, as well as the ways that people in the organization behave towards each other and with their wider stakeholders.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Organizational Culture

An organization’s culture can perhaps most simply be thought of as “the way things are done around here” (Deal & Kennedy, 2000). It’s a term that’s used to describe what it feels like to be part of an organization and which tries to condense the complex and systematic web of human emotions and interactions within an organization into a simple summary.

Many organizations now seek to “improve” their organizational cultures or to change them in one way or another, in the view that doing so will lead to better results for the business. The result sought range from improved attraction and retention of talent, to improve innovation, to improved customer service, to reduced risk to improved employee experience, to nearly anything you could possibly work.

In fact, in some views there is no end to what culture can achieve. In some ways, an organizations culture (or the way that the people in it work together) can be considered to be the biggest competitive advantage that any organization can have. To quote Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast“.

The way work makes you feel might be a result of your organization’s culture

Ways to Think About Culture

There are many different ways for organizations to think about culture.

It’s possible to think about different types of culture (i.e. is a culture hierarchical or empowered). There are several different frameworks that have been pulled together to categories organizational cultures. A good starting point for further reading is Quinn and Cameron’s four types of organizational culture. You might also enjoy Deal and Kennedy’s Culture Model (which we’ve yet to write about) and Johnson and Scholes Culture Web (which we’ve yet to write about).

It’s also possible to think about how the components of a culture appear within an organization, and how important these different factors are. For example, what role does a “company charter” play in an organizations culture, or what role does a poster in the entrance hallway to a building play. Edgar Schein’s Culture Triangle is a good tool to learn about as a starting point for thinking about culture in this way.

There are also many ways to think about measuring organizational cultures, and also to think about changing them. You’ll find more information on these topics in our the culture section of this website.

The World of Work Project View

Organizational culture is hugely important for the success of organizations. From our perspective, organizational culture is one of the most important things that influences the ability of an organization to be truly purpose driven and to help make the world a better place.

In our view there is no “right” culture for organizations to aspire to achieve. Emulating the cultures of others isn’t a recipe for success. Instead, each organization needs to understand what it’s purpose is and what’s important to it, then create a culture that first with these factors.

As much as we are loath to say it, while it’s possible for a culture to rise from the grass-roots of an organization, most organizations are hugely shaped by the values and behaviors of their senior leaders. If a culture is toxic, the root cause may be the leadership. Similarly, if it’s benign, the praise may be due to the leadership.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

There, as ever, is a lot of original work behind this post. However most of this post is based on general reading and experince, as opposed to any specific sources. If you’d like to read more about corporate cultures, though, we suggest starting with Deal and Kennedy’s 1982 book: “Corporate Cultures: The Rites And Rituals Of Corporate Life“.


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