You want to really get a feel for what organizational culture is and how it impacts a school or church or any institution!? Check out Line’s humorous analogy/comparison of animal cultures and our human culture!
To understand just what the term “organizational culture” means the Harvard Business Review included an article entitled, “What is Organizational Culture? And Why Should We Care?” (Watkins, 2013, p. 1). Watkins (2013) suggests that there exist controversies on what organizational culture is and states, “there is universal agreement that (1) it exists, and (2) that it plays a crucial role in shaping behavior in organizations” (p.1). Conversely, how organizational culture impacts and influences behavior is a nebulous and debatable anomaly and can be an elusive critter for a leader to use to his or her benefit. Further, there exist many types of organizational cultures. Thus, utilizing a humorous, but poignant analogy of the organizational culture of humans as compared with the culture of the animal world, light can be shed on the enigmatic tenants of it.
Organizational Cultures: In the Animal World
Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my! (The Wizard of Oz, 1939)
The first article intrigued me beyond words. The title, “Types of Organisational Culture” (1999) appears ordinary enough; however, the author, Maurice Line cleverly uses analogues of organizational cultures from the animal world. Line (1999) states “every organization has its own culture, whether it knows it or not. It is a very powerful influence on everyone’s behavior, from senior management to the janitor (p. 73). In an effort to identify and examine cultures, the author uses different kinds of animals and considers the cultures that each represents. Some animal cultures examples are as follows:
- Lion Culture: dominated by one male leader; only one
- Chimpanzee Culture: a constant power struggle where the members never really feel secure
- Wolf Culture: members are fiercely loyal to one leader and share a common sense of undisputed purpose; other weaker cultures in turn fear the establishment
- Cow Culture: led by a fearsome leader, but he has limited vision and attacks when the spirit hits him; all other cows follow lead and possess limited potential
- Sheep Culture: much like the cow culture, is also led by a powerful leader, but he lacks vision and has no idea where his flock is going; he is also easily managed (by the shepherd); members are prone to panic for any reason or no apparent reason
- Cat Culture: no real leader; each member is independent; will work together if necessary but are quite content on their own; each member is flexible and creative; they dislike authority but will acquiesce if it is in their best interest (pp. 74-75).
Based on the author’s premise of the unique properties of cats coupled with their efficiency, Line (2004) suggests that the human culture is much like that of the cat culture:
“Cat cultures can be very good provided the Cat Keeper [organizational leader] understands them, respects their independence and uses their strengths; but [does] not expect anything extra out of them unless it can be shown to be in their own interest …. They suffer in silence if they are unwell, but not if they want attention …. And if they find a better source of food and attention of the right kind they will not hesitate to leave … The cat [and human] cultures are not easy to manage. In the case of both cats and human beings, over-management is counterproductive; not only does it not work, but it produces stagnation or backlashes. Cats usually know what is best for them – and so do human beings” (p. 75).
Thus, to impact change within an organization and prevent stagnation, engender innovation, and impact behavior an understanding of the organizational culture is in order.
Organizational Cultures: In Colleges and Universities
The second article is equally useful in that it addresses the organizational cultures that are prevalent in colleges and universities. Using research and statistics, Obenchanin, Johnson, and Dion posit, “colleges and universities [are] cultural vehicles essential for the perpetuation of culture with long traditions of customs and precedent and are structured in such a way as to resist hasty change (p. 16). However, this article proved to be of more benefit to me because it addresses the specific organizational culture that I am working in – the Christian university. As a result of the “perpetuation of culture” (Hefferlin, cited by Obenchanin et al.) the Christian university faces higher significant cultural pressures because the institution must also preserve its “history, tradition, curriculum, religious activities, and [its] distinctive mission” (p. 16).
The article argues that culture is a process of shared knowledge and basic assumptions that can be used to solve organizational issues and/or concerns. It then outlines some culture types that are conducive to innovation within the Christian university.
Just as in the ‘animal’ article, the authors outline four types of cultures, or “organic processes”: the clan, adhocracy, hierarchy, and market (pp. 21-22). Utilizing quantitative data the authors’ suggest that Christian universities, in general, favor the operating values of clan cultures. Further, clan cultures can impede innovation because innovation implies a focus on external concerns/solutions whereas clan cultures tend not to. Obenchanin et al posits, “this finding does not abode well for Christian institutions of higher education, as It suggests that many do not have the operating values and processes compatible with innovation. Regardless, the finding was weak and not necessarily applicable across all Christian universities and is not carved in stone. The overarching take-home from this article was that in order to impact change and innovation, the organizational culture as well as the competing cultures of an institution must be understood fully to influence behavior.
Line, M. B. (1999). Types of organisational culture. Library Management, 20(2), 73-75. Bradford, UK: Emerald Group Publishing. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/198796095?accountid=27965.
Obenchain, A. M., Johnson, W. C., & Dion, P. A. (2004). Institutional types, organizational cultures, and innovation in christian colleges and universities. Christian Higher Education, 3(1), 15-39. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.capella.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.library.capella.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=12439447&site=ehost-live&scope=site
The Wizard of Oz [Motion picture]. (1939). Paramount Home Video.
Watkins, M. (2013, May 15). What is organizational culture? And why should we care? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/05/what-is-organizational-culture/.