What's your favourite definition/description of 'culture' in an organisational context?

Hi All,

 

I'm delivering an experiential workshop tomorrow night to a bunch of MSc Business Psychology students in their 'Cultural Diversity' elective.

 

So - what's your favourite description/definition of culture?

 

Do you have any great examples of cultural diversity?

 

Best wishes

Belina

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Culture is for yoghurts. In organisations, talk about culture tends to distract people from the interactions that happen day to day, in the moment. The action is in the interaction. If there has to be a description of culture, how about, "The culture consists of all the conversations and other interactions (in the organisation) that anyone talking about the culture is aware of".
Here's a nice example:

- in the UK, if you flash your headlights at another car it means 'go ahead, I'll make way for you'.

- in France, if you flash your headlights at another car if means 'look out, I'm coming through!'

Quite important to know the difference!

I think culture is important and 'exists' in some way outside of yoghurts (so I guess I disagree with Paul). Perhaps it's my anthropology background.

I like Edgar Schein's three levels of culture - artifacts on the surface (the things you can see, touch, hear, smell, taste, read), espoused values (the things the organisation says about itself in public - mission statement, values lists, manuals and policies) and underlying assumptions (the things people believe so deeply about 'how we do things round here' and 'what work is' etc) which form the boundaries of activities and choices which are seen as possible / impossible, legitimate / illegitimate etc. You can see these as an iceberg, with the really important stuff below the surface.

Paul's everday interactions will be framed by the largely hidden underlying assumptions , and the conversations themselves will reinforce the culture, and give it a detailed manifestation. Physical artifacts (uniform, reception areas, office layout, products, logos etc) are a tangible manifestation of culture, and also reinforce it. If they are not aligned with it, you'd notice and feel the tension.

I agree that all the daily interactions can also gradually reshape culture, so it evolves over time. And of course interactions with those outside the organisation also influence the culture.

When Paul intervenes with his miracle questions, he's deliberately disrupting the underlying assumptions or trying to get the coachee to step outside of them.

If enough disruption happens, the culture may shift quite fast to something clearly different to how it was before.

I guess culture is the sum of all the things on the three levels of culture which enable someone in the organisation to say '(s)he's one of us' or '(s)he's not one of us' (regardless of whether the person is formally part of the organisation or not).

Have a great workshop.

Penny
Thank you Penny! Great stuff. Keep meaning to read Schein - got him on my shelf...

Penny Walker said:
Here's a nice example:

- in the UK, if you flash your headlights at another car it means 'go ahead, I'll make way for you'.

- in France, if you flash your headlights at another car if means 'look out, I'm coming through!'

Quite important to know the difference!

I think culture is important and 'exists' in some way outside of yoghurts (so I guess I disagree with Paul). Perhaps it's my anthropology background.

I like Edgar Schein's three levels of culture - artifacts on the surface (the things you can see, touch, hear, smell, taste, read), espoused values (the things the organisation says about itself in public - mission statement, values lists, manuals and policies) and underlying assumptions (the things people believe so deeply about 'how we do things round here' and 'what work is' etc) which form the boundaries of activities and choices which are seen as possible / impossible, legitimate / illegitimate etc. You can see these as an iceberg, with the really important stuff below the surface.

Paul's everday interactions will be framed by the largely hidden underlying assumptions , and the conversations themselves will reinforce the culture, and give it a detailed manifestation. Physical artifacts (uniform, reception areas, office layout, products, logos etc) are a tangible manifestation of culture, and also reinforce it. If they are not aligned with it, you'd notice and feel the tension.

I agree that all the daily interactions can also gradually reshape culture, so it evolves over time. And of course interactions with those outside the organisation also influence the culture.

When Paul intervenes with his miracle questions, he's deliberately disrupting the underlying assumptions or trying to get the coachee to step outside of them.

If enough disruption happens, the culture may shift quite fast to something clearly different to how it was before.

I guess culture is the sum of all the things on the three levels of culture which enable someone in the organisation to say '(s)he's one of us' or '(s)he's not one of us' (regardless of whether the person is formally part of the organisation or not).

Have a great workshop.

Penny
Thanks Paul! I like your action in the interaction as well as Penny's offer. You both rock!

Paul Z Jackson said:
Culture is for yoghurts. In organisations, talk about culture tends to distract people from the interactions that happen day to day, in the moment. The action is in the interaction. If there has to be a description of culture, how about, "The culture consists of all the conversations and other interactions (in the organisation) that anyone talking about the culture is aware of".
Hi Belina,

the one definition of organizational culture that I keep coming back to is Edgar Schein's: A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has 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 those problems.

Edgar Schein did publish a revised version of his The Corporate Culture Survival Guide that I find as relevant as ever.

Best regards

Gilles
Hi Gilles

I don't know whether you have worked only in France, or have experience of organisational cultures which seem to be different depending on where (which country) an organisation is based or located?

Penny
Hi Gilles,

Many thanks for your post. I haven't read that book yet but it sounds like I should.

Best wishes
Belina

Gilles Rey said:
Hi Belina,

the one definition of organizational culture that I keep coming back to is Edgar Schein's: A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has 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 those problems.

Edgar Schein did publish a revised version of his The Corporate Culture Survival Guide that I find as relevant as ever.

Best regards

Gilles
Hi Penny,

as a matter of fact I have worked (and lived) most of the last 20 years in a number of regions and countries:
7 years in China, based in Shanghai
5 years in Singapore, from where I travelled 80% of the time to basically every country in Asia - I know best India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea.
1 year in Hong-Kong
2 years in Saudi Arabia and Dubai

Organisational culture is strongly influenced by the culture of the land. Purely local players can be just that: very local indeed. Foreign companies bring their own corporate culture which their local employees have to learn and adapt to. But the foreign company also goes some way to adapt itself to the local national culture. All combinations exist, diversity reigns supreme although at a general level one can identify some distinctive cultural traits across several organisations.

What I have seen happen a number of times is that a foreign company fails in its venture in a foreign land for failing to sufficiently integrate elements of the local culture and sort of try impose its own very cultural model.

The example I know best in my own company, Auchan. We are something like the 10th largest retailer in the world (a $50 billion business a year in 12 countries). Everywhere we have stores we start posting experienced managers, mostly French. But these managers go as local as they are individually capable of beginning with learning the language. Every country enjoys a lot of autonomy in terms of what products it sells, what retail model it implements or creates. The only objective is to adapt the model to local tastes and to the national or regional culture - for example 30% of food products sold in Beijing are different from those sold in Shanghai. As a result you'd be at a loss most of the time to determine what the Auchan model is. The only model that we have across all countries and cultures is: sell and be profitable.

This is an interesting conversation. I could also develop cultural differences in terms of managing people, negotiating in different cultural settings.

Let me add that my wife being from the Philippines the intercultural thing is my daily bread. The more I get of it the more I enjoy it. Maybe because I keep learning every day.

Looking forward to pursuing the conversation. I'm at your disposal if there are specific areas that you'd like to talk about.

Best regards

Gilles



Penny Walker said:
Hi Gilles

I don't know whether you have worked only in France, or have experience of organisational cultures which seem to be different depending on where (which country) an organisation is based or located?

Penny
Gilles,

Thank you so much for adding to the richness of this discussion with specific experiences! Lovely to have your genius on this discussion!

Best wishes
Belina

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