Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 27th 2017 Contents We all hear that an or-
is very important in
But how does one go
about building the
culture of an organsation?
What is culture?
Edgar Schein, professor at Sloan School
of Management, MIT, wrote in the Feb 1990
Journal of American Psychologist a seminal ar-
ticle titled, "Organisational Culture". There he
defines an organisational culture as "a pattern
of basic assumptions, invented, discovered,
or developed by a given group, as it learns to
cope with its problems of external adaptation
and internal integration, that has worked well
enough to be considered valid and, therefore
is to be taught to new members as the correct
way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to
How does an
There are at least six potential sources from
which an organisational culture gets formed.
First source is the founder(s) of the organisa-
tion. It is said that an organisation is nothing
but the lengthened shadow of its founder(s).
What the organisation's founder believes as the
values on which it would survive and succeed
becomes the norm, and then eventually the
culture of that organisation.
The other sources that cause a culture to
take shape are the parent company values and
norms, new CEO or management, market or
industry norm, merger dynamics, and, very
often, by accident.
The elements of an organisation's culture
can be viewed in three distinct layers (see illus-
tration). At the top, above the surface, are the
artefacts which are the visible manifestations
of the culture.
These include, the physical structures (how
the office is laid out, whether it is open plan
or closed offices, etc), the language used (how
members of the organisation address each oth-
er--in a formal or informal manner, how open
is communication between the members, etc),
rituals and ceremonies that are followed (how
a new member is inducted, how successes are
celebrated, etc), stories, myths, legends (about
the founders, about significant events that im-
pacted the organisation, etc).
Below the visual part, unseen to the naked
eye, are the values and assumptions that un-
derlie the visible behaviour and manifestation
Shared values are formed through conscious
beliefs about what is good or bad, right or
wrong and these arise from shared assumptions
formed from mental models of what works to
help members to cope and adapt to external
challenges and helps them integrate better with
the internal organisational norms.
It's easier to have a strong culture when your
organisation is young and small. When it grows
beyond a certain size it needs to reinvent itself
and you have to be much more conscious and
develop strategies to sustain the culture.
One way to do this is to determine what val-
ues you want to reinforce in the organisation
and use the visible parts of culture to reinforce
Rites and rituals
For instance, let's looks at rites and rituals.
If you want to foster greater camaraderie and
team work among members of your organi-
sation, you can develop some new rites and
rituals to reinforce the same.
One organisation in Trinidad, known for its
vibrant culture, used to have a rite of passage
ceremony when a staff member completed his
or her probation. The CEO would place a gold
pin on his or her lapel in a ceremony at the
staff meeting. This signified they were now a
full member of the organisation.
Another ritual this organisation followed was
the "wishes in a bottle" ritual. At the end-of-
year luncheon, after sharing the contents of a
few wine bottles among the staff, each member
would write a wish for themselves or for their
colleagues and roll the piece of paper and drop
it in the bottle which will then be sealed and
kept in a visible place in the office.
At the next year party these slips of paper
would be opened and read to see how many
wishes came true. This created a shared ex-
perience of closeness and bonding among the
Symbols such as the corner office or closed
rooms can also signal to the members of the
organisation the power dynamics within the
organisation. One can also use well thought-
out artefacts to communicate specific values
you want to reinforce among the team, such
as team photos on the wall (value expressed:
celebration of team work), or glass portholes
into closed office (transparency), or the dress
code (formal or informal).
Totem poles serve a useful purpose to es-
tablish organisation hierarchy and ensure
compliance to some degree.
Pictures of the president, prime minister and
the relevant minister hanging in the halls of
most government offices is a typical example of
organisational totem pole. Most organisations
have pictures of board members or founders
placed at vantage points.
One needs to be mindful that sometimes in-
correct inferences can be made from organisa-
tional symbols, stories, myths, and other such
artifacts, if we do not know how they connect
to underlying assumptions that drive behavior.
For instance, one non-bank financial insti-
tution decided to differentiate itself from the
banks by adopting a semi-formal dress code
instead of the stiff tie and jacket uniform of
The value underlying this dress code was to
show the clients that the staff were friendly and
approachable. However, over a period of time
the reason for the dress code was not shared
with new members who joined the organisation
and they began to misinterpret the dress code
to signify a casual work attitude, and perfor-
mance started to go downhill.
Therefore, leaders need to often share legacy
stories, continuously talk about the culture
and, more importantly, share the "why we do
what we do the way we do it." Because values
drive culture, and culture drives performance.
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