February 15, 2011

Types of Organizational Culture and Behavior

Culture is a deep rooted phenomenon in social systems. Culture and social environment distinguish human beings from other species (Skinner 1978). Culture in anthropology refers to as socially transmitted patterns for behavior of a particular social group. Gold (in Kessing 1981) says that culture has been used to refer to the "regularly recurring pattern of life within a community”. It can be interpreted in terms of behavioral psychology as a spontaneous generalization. It is said that an underlying difficulty in the study of culture is that we are not in the habit of analyzing cultural patterns; we are seldom even aware of them (Kessing 1981). It is similar to what Jung said under the concept of the collective unconscious. However, with some mental effort we can begin to become conscious of the codes that normally lie hidden beneath our everyday behavior. Similarly, Schein in relation to organizations defines culture as "taken-for-granted assumptions", which means that cultural pattern dominates the formalizations. Thus culture can be interpreted as internalized pattern of organizational behavior. The older is the organization, the stronger is the culture.

Taken-for-granted assumptions in organizations neither develop in a vacuum nor emerge overnight. Cultural pattern can be discovered by conducting a detailed through study that helps to find out how & why those patterns exist in an organization. It grows through a long process and is conditioned in its own way because it is a mixture of many organizational elements, for example, formalization, conventions, decision making processes, style of interaction , decor of building, process of implementing the decisions, formal and informal grouping and individuals. These factors are the ones on which a culture is based upon. Organizations can have one of the three types of culture as shown in table 1.

Table 1

Three Types of Organizational Cultures

Alienated Culture

Democratic Culture

Antagonistic Culture

Alienated Culture:

It indicates that conflicts are present; however participants follow the principles and formalization of the organization, but reluctantly. The basic assumption of such a culture is that the formal rules and regulations are more important than showing and resolving underlying conflicts. It does not matter if conflicts are resolved or not, but it is expected that participants must fulfil their formal and basic duties so that they can keep their positions. In this type of culture, employees have two strategies either do not raise voice or leave the system. Alienated culture nourishes generally in rational but autocratic type of organizational structures. The reason is that this structure supports single-loop learning and restricts participants’ voice action. The rational structure fosters non-accommodative behaviour which leads to rational type of informal grouping. Thus interaction between groups and individuals will be more calculative. Informal groups within organizations are source of providing cognitive dissonance to each other. The cognitive dissonance is reduced by raising alienation for other groups and organization. Alienated culture curb voice action and demands forced loyalty to the system.

Democratic Cultures

The basic assumption behind democratic culture is that conflicts should be brought into the surface so that they can be analyzed and solved amicably. The democratic culture gives provision to voice action which means that participants can disagree without developing hard feelings for each other. It relies more on accommodative behaviour which leads to collaborating style of resolving conflicts. The collaborating attitude favours democratic type of informal grouping which emphasizes on moral commitment. The groups are interactive in informal settings. Since it provides participants’ outlets to channel their energies through voice action therefore decisions are made by convincing each other which not only reduces cognitive dissonance but increases confidence and friendship between individuals and groups in the organizations.

Antagonistic Culture

Antagonistic culture paradigm is based on "what I am saying, is correct and should be accepted". This choice of "should be" is the key factor in raising antagonistic culture in the organization. Participants are not open in their dealing and they develop an assumption in the long run which says "you do what you like; I’ll do what I like". Participants’ threats to each other are a common feature during interaction. In such kind of culture, participants are afraid of each other's presence, hence "no contact or less contact" is considered a solution to avoid cognitive disturbance.

This culture provides room for non-accommodative behaviour with the provision of agitating voice action. Participants reach a conflicting level where they are alienated and unconcerned with the development of organization. They are scared of others’ manipulation or afraid that they will lose power if they cooperate with the other person. Every event and person cognitively becomes irrelevant except that they find their own actions legitimate in all cases and use all kinds of means to defend them. A similar kind of view is presented by Schein (1969 in French and Bell 1990) in relation to group conflict. He says:

"when there is tension, conflict, or competition among groups...., each group sees the other as an enemy....; each group describes the other in terms of negative stereo­types; interac­tion and communication between the two groups decrease, cutting off feedback and data input between; what intergroup communica­tion and inter­action does take place is typically distorted and inaccurate; each group begins to prize itself and its products more positively and to denigrate the other group and its products.......under certain circum­stances the groups may commit acts of sabotage (of various kinds) against the other group".

Chart of major elements of three types of cultures
Type of CultureType of GroupingInterpersonal BehaviorAvailable Strategies to employeesEmployee InvolvementCognitive Reaction
Alienated CultureRational Informal GroupingPartially-AccomodativeLittle room for voice but room for exit or forced loyaltyCalculativeDissonance
Democratic CultureFriendly relationship between informal groupAccomodativeRoom for Voice and loyaltyMoralConsonance
Antagonistic CultureAntagonistic relationship between groupsNon-AccomodativeRoom for exitAlienativeIrrelevant

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