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Organizational Culture

The study of organizational culture looks at trends and norms in the behaviour of teams, work-groups and organizations as a whole, rather than the behaviour of individuals within an organization. The term “corporate culture” is often credited to Edgar Schein, a former MIT Sloan School of Management professor. In his 1990 paper “Organizational Culture” (American Psychological Association Vol. 45, No 2, 109-119), Schein identifies culture as being composed of artifacts and behaviors as well as the espoused values and underlying assumptions that explain what these artifacts and behaviors mean. Artifacts are things that are designed by members of an organization and, as such, by looking at an artifact we can glean information about its designer. Gerry Johnson breaks this down further by identifying six elements (that may overlap) that can be used to define organizational culture:

  1. The organizations vision, mission and values
  2. The organizations controls, codes of conducts, and reward systems
  3. The organizational structure&
  4. Power - who has it, who doesn't?
  5. Symbols
  6. Rituals and routines
  7. Stories and myths

According to Schein, there exists a diversity of approaches to culture because “culture lies at the intersection of several social sciences and reflects some of the biases of each – specifically, those of anthropology, sociology, social psychology, and organizational behaviour.” Ultimately, Schein says that founders and managers of an organization contribute to the group’s culture by bringing their own past experiences and assumptions and communicating acceptable models of behavior. However, different units within the group will have their own histories to contribute, and over time corporate culture becomes the sum of the group’s experiences. As a result, there are at least five factors that determine organizational culture:

  1. The external environment
  2. The industry
  3. The size and nature of the organization's workforce
  4. Technologies that the organization uses
  5. The organization's history and ownership

Another major contribution to the field of organizational culture comes from Geer Hofstede's cultural dimensions. Hofstede looked for differences in thinking and social action (what he called "mental programs" between over 100,000 IBM employees from 50 different countries. He determined that differences in mental programming come from differences along five cultural dimensions:

  1. Power distance
  2. Uncertainty avoidance
  3. Individualism vs. collectivism
  4. Masculinity vs. femininity
  5. Long-term vs. short-term orientation

Other notable contributors to the study of organizational culture include O'Reilly, Chatman and Caldwall (1991), Deal and Kennedy (1982), Gerry Johnson (1988), Stanley G. Harris (1994), Irving Janis (1972 - "Group Think"), Charles Handy (1972), Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn (1999), and Robert A. Cooke.

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