Typologies of Corporate Character and Culture

Typologies trying to capture cultural essences in organizations were first introduced by Harrison (1979) and Handy (1978) with four “types” based on their primary focus. Harrison’s four types were:

  • Power oriented: Organizations dominated by charismatic/autocratic founders.
  • Achievement oriented: Organizations dominated by task results.
  • Role oriented: Public bureaucracies.
  • Support oriented: Nonprofit or religious organizations.

Handy saw a connection between types of organizations and what some of the main Greek gods represented:

  • Zeus: The Club culture.
  • Athena: The Task culture.
  • Apollo: The Role culture.
  • Dionysus: The Existential culture.

Both of these typologies are measured with brief questionnaires and are used to help an organization get some insight into its “essence” (Handy, 1978; Harrison and Stokes, 1992).

The concept of corporate “character” was introduced by Wilkins (1989), who saw it as a component of culture consisting of “Shared Vision,” “Motivational Faith” that things would be fair and that abilities would be used, and “Distinctive Skills.” In his view, building character was possible by emphasizing programs dealing with each of the components, but he did not build a typology around the dimensions. Building on personality dimensions, Pearson presents a more elaborate model based on the the­ory of twelve Jungian archetypes—ruler, creator, innocent, sage, explorer, revolutionary, magician, hero, lover, jester, caregiver, and everyperson (Corlett and Pearson, 2003). She measures through a self-report question­naire how things are done in the organization and then scores the results for the twelve archetypes to determine which are the most salient in the organization. By obtaining self-insight, the organization is presumed to be more able to be effective.

Goffee and Jones (1998) saw character as equivalent to culture and created a typology based on two key dimensions: “solidarity”—the ten­dency to be like-minded, and “sociability”—the tendency to be friendly to each other. These dimensions are measured with a twenty-three-item self­description questionnaire. They closely resemble and are derivative from the classical group dynamics distinction between task variables and building and maintenance variables. These two dimensions were used extensively by Blake and Mouton (1964, 1969, 1989) in their “Managerial Grid,” which was built on the two dimensions of task and group building, each to be mea­sured on a scale of 1 to 9. A highly sociable, person-oriented organization that cared little for task accomplishment would be rated as 1,9, whereas a highly task-oriented, driven, and insensitive organization would be rated 9,1. Various other combinations were possible, ranging from 1,1 (which is virtually a state of anomie) to 5,5 (a compromise solution) to 9,9, the hero of the model, in which task and personal factors are given equal weight.

Goffee and Jones use these dimensions to identify four types of cultures:

  • Fragmented: Low on both dimensions.
  • Mercenary: High on solidarity, low on sociability.
  • Communal: High on sociability, low on solidarity.
  • Networked: High on both.

Each type has certain virtues and liabilities that are described, but the typology misses a crucial dimension that has been identified by Ancona (1988) and others: the relationship between the group (organization) and its external environments, which is the boundary management function that must be added to the task and maintenance functions. Without a model of what happens at the boundary, it is not possible to determine which type of culture is effective under different environmental conditions.

Cameron and Quinn (1999, 2006) also developed a four-category typology based on two dimensions, but in their case, the dimensions are more structural— how stable or flexible the organization is and how externally or internally focused it is. These dimensions are seen as perpetually competing values:

  • Hierarchy: Internal focus and stable; structured, well coordinated.
  • Clan: Internal focus and flexible; collaborative, friendly, family like.
  • Market: External focus and stable; competitive, results oriented.
  • Adhocracy: External focus and flexible; innovative, dynamic, entrepreneurial.

Whereas the Goffee and Jones typology was built on basic dimensions that derived from group dynamics (task versus maintenance), the Cameron and Quinn typology was built on factor analyzing large numbers of indica­tors of organizational performance and finding that these reduce to two clusters that correlate closely with what cognitive researchers have found to be “archetypical” dimensions as well. Markets, hierarchies, and clans as organizational types had previously been identified by Ouchi (1978, 1981), and markets versus hierarchies were analyzed in detail by economists such as Williamson (1975).

In this typology as in the previous one, we don’t know the relative importance of these dimensions within the organization being analyzed, we don’t know which typology is the more relevant, and we don’t know whether a short questionnaire can validly “type” a culture. On the other hand, the questionnaire focuses on managerial behavior, so it may be a use­ful diagnostic for determining the kinds of climates that managers set for their subordinates and correlating that with performance. The Cameron and Quinn typology is also based on the theoretical idea that the poles of any given dimension are in conflict with each other and the cultural solu­tion is how to reconcile them. This is the same idea as the Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars model of showing organizations how cultural solutions are always some level of integration of the extremes of the dimension (2000). For example, all cultures have to be both collectivist and individualistic; how they solve this dilemma gives them their distinctive flavor.

Source: Schein Edgar H. (2010), Organizational Culture and Leadership, Jossey-Bass; 4th edition.

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