April 26, 2016

Compared to finding topics to write about beginning with X, Y and Z, O was comparatively easy – because you can put “organisation” in front of almost anything. But I stuck to “culture” and “structure” and included a section on Occupational Health and Safety. Here’s an extract from the Organisational Culture section:


“Put simply, organisational culture  is the “feel of things” in a company or as someone might say to a new comer, “the way we do things around here” (Deal & Kennedy 1982, p. 4). It’s not written in a policy manual but has a profound impact on the way organisations operate and how people within them connect and behave.

More technically, organisational culture is defined as “deeply rooted value or shared norm, moral or aesthetic principles that guides action and serves as standards to evaluate one’s own and others’ behaviors”(Hofstede 1994, p. 68). Such norms and beliefs are established through personal example, organisational history, management policy, the role of unions, what money is spent on, recruitment and promotion criteria and what’s happening in the general culture. As Bolman & Deal (2013, p. 263) say, organisational culture is both a product and process:

“As a product, it embodies wisdom accumulated from experience. As a process, it is renewed and re-created as newcomers learn the old ways and eventually become teachers themselves.”

Although organisational culture isn’t concrete, it is easy to sense. Think of an organisation you’ve worked for and find some adjectives to describe it. Was it warm or cold, caring or heartless, people or task oriented, closed or open, fun or focused? Skringar & Stevens (2008, p. 96) use the phrases ‘strong and weak’ and ‘thick and thin’ to describe cultures. For example, a strong culture is one with a system of informal rules spelling out how people behaviour and as result people feel better about what they do and so are likely to work harder. On the other hand, a weak culture is where employees waste a good deal of time working out what to do and how to do it. In a thin culture, staff don’t share common values with the organisation or the group whereas in a thick culture, values are shared, communication is effective and there’s less social distance between staff and managers.

Golensky (2011,70) says there are three levels of organisational culture:

  1. Observable artifacts – for example physical layout, dress code, the annual report, overt staff behaviour
  2. Espoused values – expression of personal convictions to explain or justify expected behaviour
  3. Deep-seated assumptions – guides to actual behaviour that have become so ingrained that they don’t require conscious thought .

The observable culture at MTC was very casual. After one day in the job, our quite formal Finance Director took off his tie except for Board meetings. And even then, because the meetings were on a Friday, some of the Board members also took advantage of ‘casual Fridays’ to dress down.  When you are sitting down having morning tea or lunch with people who are carpenters in overalls or actors in leotards, one looks slightly foolish if overdressed. Another type of observable artifacts is noted by Plas and Lewis (2001, p. 66).They give the example of how informal and seemingly insignificant symbols can tell a story and in their case it was an in-house telephone directory, just like MTC’s, that was alphabetized by first names rather than family names – “reflecting the personal touch that is so important to the culture.”

I always wondered what impression visitors had of MTC when they came into a building that was falling down:  at those moments when I tripped over the gaffer tape holding the carpet together under my desk; or when they started to roll away from the meeting table because of the slope of the floor. Did they think that we didn’t care about our environment? That we were slack? I hope that believed us when we said we’d rather spend money on the art than on our surroundings although of course, eventually occupational health and safety issues meant that we had no choice but to find a new home with flat floors.


Bolman, LG  & Deal, TE 2013 Reframing Organizations ,5th edn, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Deal, TE & Kennedy, AA 1982, Corporate Celebration: Play, Purpose and Profit at Work, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco,

Golensky, M 2011, Strategic Leadership and Management in Nonprofit Organizations, Lyceum Books Inc, Chicago

Hofstede, G 1994,Uncommon sense about organizations: case studies and field observations, Sage, Thousand Oaks CA

Skringar, ER & Stevens, T 2008, Driving Change and Developing Organisations, 1st edn., Tilde University Press, Melbourne