A number of management thinkers have studied organisational culture and attempted to classify different types of culture. The following approaches may be helpful in assessing and understanding the culture of an organisation, but also illustrate its inherent complexity. Observers should recognise that an organisation’s culture can be viewed from multiple angles, and that its characteristics can be reflected in a number of overlapping dimensions.

Edgar Schein

Schein believed that culture is the most difficult organisational attribute to change and that it can outlast products, services, founders and leaders. Schein’s model looks at culture from the standpoint of the observer and describes the culture at three levels:

  • Artefacts - organisational attributes that can be seen, felt and heard by the uninitiated observer, including the facilities, offices, décor, furnishings, dress, and how people visibly interact with others and with outsiders.
  • Espoused values - the professed culture of an organisation's members. Company slogans, mission statements and other operational creeds are useful examples.
  • › Basic underlying assumptions - which are unseen and not consciously identified in everyday interactions between organisational members. Even people with the experience to understand this deepest level of culture can become accustomed to its attributes, reinforcing the invisibility of its existence.

Geert Hofstede

Hofstede is well-known for his work exploring the national and regional cultural influences which affect the behaviour of organisations (see Related Models and Thinkers). He also collaborated with Bob Waisfisz to develop an Organisational Culture Model, based on empirical research and featuring six dimensions. These are:

  • Means oriented vs goal-oriented - the extent to which goals (the ‘what’) or the means (the ‘how) of conducting work tasks are prioritized. This may affect attitudes toward taking risks or contributing discretionary effort.
  • Internally driven vs externally driven - externally driven cultures will be more pragmatic, focusing primarily on meeting the customer’s requirements, while internally driven cultures may exhibit stronger values.
  • Easygoing vs strict - stricter cultures run on a high level of discipline and control, while easygoing cultures tend towards more improvisation.
  • Local vs professional - the extent to which people identify with their immediate colleagues and conform to the norms of this environment, or associate themselves with a wider group of people and practices based on their role.
  • Open system vs closed system – the extent to which newcomers are accepted and the differences they bring are welcomed.
  • Employee-oriented vs work-oriented – the extent to which the employee’s well-being is prioritised at the expense of the task, or vice versa.

Charles Handy

Handy links organisational structure to organisational culture. Handy describes:

  • Power Culture - power is concentrated among a few with control and communications emanating from the centre. Power cultures have few rules and little bureaucracy; decision making can be swift.
  • Role Culture - authority is clearly delegated within a highly defined structure. Such organisations typically form hierarchical bureaucracies where power derives from a person's position and little opportunity exists for expert power.
  • Task Culture - teams are formed to solve particular problems with power deriving from expertise.
  • Person Culture - here, all individuals believe themselves superior to the organisation. As the concept of an organisation suggests that a group of like-minded individuals pursue common goals, survival can become difficult for this type of organisation. However, looser networks or contractual relationships may thrive with this culture.

Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes

Johnson and Scholes developed the Cultural Web in 1992. It is a representation of the taken-for-granted assumptions of an organisation which helps management to focus on the key factors of culture and their impact on strategic issues. This can identify blockages to and facilitators of change in order to improve performance and competitive advantage. The Cultural Web contains six inter-related elements:

  • Stories - the past and present events and people talked about inside and outside the company.
  • Rituals and routines - the daily behaviour and actions of people that signal acceptable behaviour.
  • Symbols - the visual representations of the company including logos, office decor and formal or informal dress codes.
  • Organisational structure - includes structures defined by the organisation chart, and the unwritten lines of power and influence that indicate whose contributions are most valued.
  • Control systems - the ways that the organisation is controlled including financial systems, quality systems, and rewards.
  • Power structures - Power in the company may lie, for example, with one or two executives, with a group of executives or a department, or it may be more evenly distributed in a ‘flat’ structure. These people have the greatest amount of influence on decisions, operations, and strategic direction.

This section will outline the various organisational cultures which are apparent in workplaces and businesses across the world.

Introduction to Organisational Culture
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Handy's Four Types of Organisational Culture
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Factors that Impact Organisational Culture
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The Cultural Web – Johnson and Scholes
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Project GLOBE
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Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions
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This section will outline the effects of the various organisational cultures on individuals and teams within a workplace.
Handy's Model (see 'Effect on Individuals/ Teams')
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Wellbeing and Organisational Performance
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This section will focus on the impact of organisational culture on change within a business or workplace.
Handy's Model (see 'Managing Change')
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This section will outline the relationship between the various leadership styles and associated organisational cultures.
Handy's Model (see 'Leadership styles')
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This section will focus on the impact of different organisational cultures on employee engagement and motivation.

This section will outline all the factors which affect organisational culture, including corporate governance and ethical considerations.

Corporate Social Responsibility
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Forum: Organisational Culture
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This section contains the end of course quiz - a chance to review the knowledge you have gained from this course.

Test Your Knowledge on Organisational Culture
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  • The activity Handy's Model (see 'Managing Change') is marked complete
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CPD: 35 min