Monday, April 9, 2012

What is Organizational Culture and Why Does it Matter?


For the next ten or so weeks, I'll be writing on the topic of organizational culture, how culture changes and transforms (within) organizations, and what this means for companies and their multiple bottom lines.

Before we dive in over the coming weeks, let's define organizational culture as something more than just the "culture of an organization."


My first exposure to the concept of sustainability was in a cultural anthropology class that I was taking at a local community college during my junior year in high school. Because the concepts of anthropology have acted as a lens for the formation of my views on both sustainability and business, I will refer to the anthropological definition of culture, which is - the learned patterns of behavior and thought that help a group adapt to its surroundings.

Organization, on the other hand, is defined as - an administrative or functional structure and the people who work within that structure. For our purposes, we will mostly be looking at for-profit businesses.

Organizational culture, therefore, can be defined as - the learned patterns of behavior and thought that help a business adapt within a competitive market. The culture of an organization reflects the collective values and behaviors that contribute to the social and psychological environments that impact the performance and ultimate success of a business.

The fact that organizations have culture probably seems extremely obvious but it is the subtle nuances and vast intricacies of these cultures, how they are constantly changing and transformed by the people and physical environments that influence them, and the ease in which those on the inside of these organizations fail to realize that their culture can be consciously and proactively changed, and how, may not be so obvious.


I believe we have the choice to be conscious of the cultures in which we live and work. As we have the  increasing opportunity to align our personal values with our livelihood, our responsibility to take a proactive approach to find innovative ways to improve the structures that make us money and impact the world we depend on, also increases. Our ability to shape the world around us and the success of our ventures depend on our being conscious of and taking responsibility for our collective behavior, our culture.

Looking forward to diving deeper on this topic with you!


ellieshilton said...
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Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to reading your explorations on organizational culture. My experience with org culture comes mainly from large government orgs and small non-profits. My blog is looking at B-corps and social enterprises. Would love to talk more about the question: How does the underlying purpose - or structure of an organization influence its culture?

Anonymous said...

I am gearing up for a culture training seminar at my current workplace in the next few weeks. The presenters have been doing a lot of work on the ground talking to people about their take on the organizational culture as it is, and how they would like it to be. It's been really interesting having discussions about the dynamic between how much we influence the culture, and how much the workplace and its goals and mission influence us.

Anyway. It will be good to follow this the next few months.

Anonymous said...

Late to the blogosphere here - but I'm no less excited to read these posts over the next 9 weeks. My last two jobs have been in two very large organizations which have very different cultures (AF and MSFT) and this has led me to be highly interested the cultural differences, why they exist, and how they can change. And I really appreciate the anthropoligal lens - it's not one that I'm used to in formal sense, but I've always appreciated the appreciation of the 'human-ness' within the workplace which can so often segregate 'business' from 'personal' realms. Looking forward to hearing more...