Defining Organizational Culture

An organization’s culture is based on a shared set of beliefs, values, and attitudes. A company’s beliefs are usually unstated but have to do with how the workings of an organization are understood. Values are identified by decisions about whether certain traits, qualities, or behaviors are productive or wasteful. Attitudes have to do with how things in an organization are viewed – like whether or not it’s okay to make mistakes. If you want to determine an organization’s culture, pay attention to the company ‘vibe’ – the work environment, hierarchy, how decisions are made, and company myths and traditions.

Organizational culture can be difficult to pin down. So, here is a list of questions to get you thinking about your own company culture:
• What are the core values of the business?
• What are the objectives and how are they achieved?
• How much time do people spend talking face-to-face?
• What has to happen for someone to get fired?
• What is your favorite day of the week – and why?
• How much interaction is there among departments?

According to a book called The Character of a Corporation by Goffee and Jones, there are four common types of cultures, which include:
• Networked Culture
• Mercenary Culture
• Fragmented Culture
• Communal Culture

In Networked organizations (Google, Yelp), doors are open, and rules are open to interpretation. People talk a lot and use e-mail to gossip. Information is exchanged quickly, which sparks creativity. Work time is used for socialization, and poor performance is tolerated. Formal meetings can be a waste of time since everything important is typically discussed behind closed doors.

In mercenary companies (Wall Street, Amazon), long hours are expected, and there is a shared sense of purpose. Communication tends to be brief, direct, and job-related. Work is goal-driven and targets are hit. Employees carefully guard their own ideas and actively work to destroy the competition. Paranoia is common.

In fragmented organizations (British Petroleum, American International Group), people are expected to make themselves valuable. Office doors are closed and may actually be empty, due to telecommuting or other out-of-the-office work. Communication happens by phone or in brief, face-to-face meetings. People go into the office as needed and absences are expected.

In communal businesses (Apple, Southwest), employees are expected to love the product and live the credo. Space is shared either formally or informally, with lots of movement in and out of offices. Face-to-face communication is most prevalent, and attention is paid to non-verbal messages. People ‘live at work,’ and there is little separation between home life and work. Outsiders may feel excluded.

Now that you’re armed with this new information, can you identify your own company culture?


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