Study of Contrasts in Organizational Culture

In my last post we talked about how contrasts can be an interesting way to look at two different ends of a spectrum.  I  listed many popular contrasts and reviewed a few with respect to leadership.

Organizational Culture is an interesting topic and it is often discussed, as well as debated, but many in the business and professional world.  Just what is Organizational Culture?  Let’s look at a few popular definitions:

Edgar Schein says that Culture is “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that a group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.”

Terry Deal and Allan Kennedy portray culture more succinctly as “the way we do things around here.”

Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn of the University of Michigan describe culture more qualitatively with a four frame diagram shown below:


Even further, Cameron and Quinn have devised an assessment to help organizations define their culture in this framework and also learn how to change their culture should they desire to do so.

Having these three definitions and a framework help us to better understand just what culture is and by doing so we can then contrast varied types of culture within organizations.

Let’s take a quick look at one or two of the most common contrasts.

Cameron and Quinn’s model has two axes, with one ranging from external focus and differentiation to internal focus and integration.  The second axis ranges from flexibility and discretion to stability and control.  Just seeing these axes gives us a lot to consider and discuss when it comes to contrast.

Let me pose a scenario and then describe where the situation might be on a framework like what we have above:

  • Jane Doe starts a software company in the mid-south (let’s say Nashville) and she hires many of her best contacts to help with development of apps for the smartphone and tablet industry.  Many of those who have come to work for Jane are creative types, so they like a workplace that allows flexibility and rewards for accomplishment.  They may come to work at 11:00 am, but they may not leave until midnight.  In addition, many of them like to work from home or from shared office concepts like ESpaces in the Nashville area.

Here are a few assumptions I would make in this situation.  The workforce likes flexibility in their work time and location.  They also don’t want to be treated alike, so there would be a measure of differentiation in what they do.  These assumptions would move us to the flexibility and discretion side as well as the external focus and differentiation side of the grid.  This would describe an Adhocracy culture as described by Cameron and Quinn.  Key words to describe this culture include Dynamic, Entrepreneurial, Risk Taking and Innovative.

To contrast this case, let’s look at another scenario:

  • Picture an organization that is charged with delivering messages in print form as well as packages to clients across the country and in many parts of the world.  They have been in business over 200 years and are quite regulated in how they conduct their business.  Their workforce is ruled by organized labor and they struggle in the ability to make ends meet because of increased competition and innovation by their competitors.

Some of the words I see here include stability, internally focused and rigid.  This type of organization would be in the Hierarchy frame and that brings positives and challenges as you can imagine, but every frame has positives and challenges.

The important thing to remember with culture is there is no right answer.  Each organization needs to decide what they want and also understand where they are in their own business, both internally and externally.

Organizational Culture can have large contrasts.  This in itself is not a bad thing.  Having the wrong culture during a certain phase can be a challenge.  Your best remedy is to know your culture, know where you are, and act accordingly to intervene if necessary.