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Posted on February 10, 2020
Updated on October 13, 2021

Organisational Culture

The culture metaphor is derived from agriculture and growing things.  Different nations have different cultures. Organisations exist within national cultures and can therefore be considered  subcultures.

As a social psychology TA offers us a valuable perspective on culture.  Berne talks about what goes on between people. This has been recently highlighted by Tudor and Summers (2000) who state that people "co-create" processes once they are in relationship.  

According to Massey, this “between” links both internal and external processes and gives a group its own mental processes. Therefore, if a group can have a “mental process” then so too can an organisation. The interaction between people creates its own dynamic and system and therefore culture.

Definitions of Culture 

Jacques E. (1951) in Cooper:

"The customary or traditional ways of doing things, which are shared to a greater or lesser extent by all members or the organisation and which new members must learn and at least partially accept in order to be accepted into the service of the firm"

Schein (1984) in Cooper:

“Organisational culture is the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, and that have worked well enough to be considered valid, and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to these problems”

Schein goes on to outline four levels of culture:

1. Basic Assumptions – These are at the deepest level. They are about appropriate behaviour and reactions. These are taken for granted and go unchallenged.

2. Values – the next highest level. This is about how things ought to be done.

3. Norms - More at the level of the conscious mind, these guide behaviour.

4. Artefacts – the external, visible symbols of the organisation’s culture. 

The psychological contract is closely linked to culture. The contract in TA terms is “how things are done around here”. Change usually involves changes in both the economic and psychological contracts. People rarely discuss the psychological contract and yet it is central to perceptions of equity.

Script theory helps us to deal with the negative aspects of an organisation’s functioning. This script will have been formed by the “founders and other parental figures and maintained by a consistent pattern of assumptions the guide individual and collective actions in the organizational setting” (Krausz R.,1993).

Aspects of Organisations

Krausz goes on to explore different aspects of organisations: work, time, people and money.


Each organisation has its own interpretations of the meaning of work.  This determines how, why, what for and where people are expected to work.

If an organisation is results-orientated they will emphasise productivity, customer needs, teamwork, ethics etc.

Whereas a task-orientated organisation is, according to Krausz, an approach that emphasises strict control of employees by bosses.  Quantity takes precedence over quality.

A survival-orientated organisation is based on the need for approval and acceptance by all those involved. Control is lax, priorities are unclear and organisational functioning is confusing and errors are common.

Work is failure-oriented organisation reinforces worthlessness and futility. Wrong decisions are made and there is a self-destruct process at work. This may be found in organisations that are going bankrupt, or where the family business is handed down to those who do not wish to take it on.


Organisations can use time to their advantage or disadvantage.  Where time is not seen as valuable then productivity is tends to be low.

Ernst (1971) suggested a link between time and the Okayness.

Ø Time is precious and used to meet objectives. (+ +)

Ø Time is used to maintain power positions and used for personal interest. (+ -)

Ø Time is not important and is used to pass the working hours without a clear goal. (- +)

Ø Time is not a resource at all.  Time is wasted, schedules are not considered, actions are unpredictable. (- -)


If the organisational culture is one of co-operation and respect then problems will be tackled and resolved and the organisational climate will be healthy.

If the climate is one of exploitation then manipulative relationships will abound and along with it a lack of trust. This will be a dog eat dog culture.

In the I+U- organisation then there is likely to be dependent relationships, feelings of lack of power and inequality.

The get-nowhere-with organisation is sterile, passive and apathetic, with a lack of commitment and involvement.

Davidson’s (1998) three-dimensional model adds another dynamic to Ernst’s two-dimensional model. Here, individuals or departments can join up and perceIve the other, or the other group in a particular way.


How money is viewed determines how business is conducted.

Ø Money as a means to and end. People and technology are invested in.

Ø Money is an end in itself. With this type of culture the organisation is just out to make money. This involves exploitation, poor products etc. This attracts employees who use the organisation for their own benefit.

Ø Money is viewed ambiguously. No one learns from losses and gains are not built on and there is no clear planning system.

Ø The relevance of money is discounted and people have a tendency to act unpredictably.

The four different aspects highlighted help to analyse the organisational script.

Drego (1996), refers to Berne’s description of group culture, namely:

Etiquette – the group defines how to be acceptable. Berne defined this as “You take care of the home and I will bring in the money”. The etiquette regulates the behaviour. Drego extends this to include ideals, spiritualities, and philosophies, basically the beliefs and values.

Technicalities – the technical culture, this defines how the organisation manages the world through its equipment. Drego extends this to include customs, ways of acting, procedures, ritual actions, communication systems, exchanges, contracts, material objects etc.

Character – this is the way the group operates i.e. through teasing, being sarcastic. This is modified within the group etiquette. Drego expands this to include ways of feeling, sensing, expressing and relating.

Drego quotes Freire (1970), “Self-depreciation is another characteristic of the oppressed, which derives from their internalisation of the opinion of the oppressors hold of them”.

Elements of the organisational culture may be in harmony or in conflict with each other. This creates incongruity. For example, the etiquette may state that everyone is a friend, whereas the character may say, don’t get close or you will get hurt.

Scripts can be changed through effective leadership and the use of such transactions as permissions. First, the analysis is necessary before deciding which interventions are the most appropriate to enable change.


Berne E. (1964), Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships, Penguin Books

Davidson C. (1999), I’m Polygonal, OK, Intand Vol. 7:1

Drego P. (1996), Cultural Parent Oppression and Regeneration, TAJ 26:1

Ernst F.H. (1971), The OK Corral: The Grid for Get-On-With, TAJ 1:4

Krausz R. R. (1993), Organizational Scripts, TAJ, 23:2

Massey R.F. (1996), Transactional Analysis as a Social Psychology, TAJ 26:1

Tudor K & Summers G, (2000), Co-Creative Transactional Analysis, TAJ 30:1