What is Organizational Culture?
According to Edgar Schein, organizational culture is the pattern of shared assumptions a group learns as it solves problems of external adaptation and internal regulation. These assumptions have proven to work well enough to be considered valid by the group, and therefore are taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel.
Culture then refers to aspects of groups or organizations that are most stable and least flexible. It also may be thought of as style and comprises such qualities as:
- Degree of confrontation, competitiveness, or collaboration
- Communication patterns
- What's really valued
- How group members get ahead
- Espoused values
- Rules of the game
- Emotional climate
- Entrenched skills
- Problem-solving & decision-making style
- Shared interpretations & meanings
- Organizational myths, legends, & history
- Common symbols, metaphors, & language
Can culture be changed?
AAny culture is limited to the extent its assumptions and values have become too rigid. So the need for change arises when the culture can no longer adapt—either to new internal forces (people, processes, structures) or external factors (markets, economic trends, competitors, regulations). In either case, growth and improvement are stymied.
Typically, the seeds of culture are planted and cultivated by founders and leaders, who impose their own values and assumptions on groups. This raises the question as to whether organizational culture can be changed without major changes in leadership. It's been our experience that culture change has to start at the top. Since there are good reasons why the culture has become what it is, resistance to culture change is inevitable. Real change requires very high motivation on the part of leadership, which usually requires something akin to a "back to the wall" competitive situation or major internal conflicts and impasses.