What is Culture?


Culture can be as divisive as it is uniting. It involves the collective social institutions, customs, and achievements of a people or group. In essence, it’s the way a group does things, which is dependent on so much of its history, its values, its beliefs, and how it solves problems.


"A useful way of thinking about where culture comes from is... culture is the way in which a group of people solves problems...a problem that is regularly solved disappears from consciousness and becomes a basic assumption, an underlying premise..."

— Alfons Trompenaars


A national culture shapes the culture of an organization because the people within that org have had similar experiences and realities growing up in that country. However, in multicultural countries and cities elements from various subcultures and different backgrounds affect one’s cultural experience and expectations. As a result, it’s easy for clashes to occur in organizations if the culture isn’t inclusive, representative of the variety of voices, or not affording equal opportunities to all.


Using diverse cultural values as a tool to create an organizational culture that fosters equality and openness are major keys to changing a culture for the better. Is your work culture healthy? Do you feel that our national culture could learn from others? It’s time to look deeper into how to create a company culture you’re proud of.


What is National Culture & Why is it Important?


Black leader with multicultural team

National culture constitutes the value differences involved between groups of nations and regions. It considers the beliefs, customs and values shared by the population of a specific country. Characteristics of a national culture, such as racial identity, language, religion, history, and others, are fundamental.


According to Professor Geert Hofstede, national culture is fundamental to culture change in the workplace. The importance of national culture can be broken down into different dimensions.


What are Hofstede's dimensions of culture?

Hofstede introduced six dimensions of national culture that include:


  • Power Distance Index (PDI) - This dimension examines the degree to which a society’s less powerful members accept that power is distributed unequally. Societies with higher PDIs accept hierarchical structures, while lower PDIs demand justification for power inequality, striving to change things.

  • Individualism vs. Collectivism - Individualism highlights individual preferences for loosely-knit social networks where people focus on taking care of themselves and their families. Collectivism prefers tightly-knit social frameworks where people are looked after in exchange for unquestionable loyalty.

  • Masculinity vs Femininity - Masculinity prioritizes heroism and assertiveness, while femininity emphasizes quality of life and caring for the weak. In organizations, this is referred to as the tough vs. tender culture.

  • Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) - Expresses how much a country is uncomfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. Countries with a higher UAI have rigid policies and are more intolerant of unorthodox ideas.

  • Long-Term Orientation vs. Short-Term Normative Orientation - Looking at the preference to maintain time-honored traditions vs. challenging societal norms.

  • Indulgence vs. Restraint - Indulgence represents a society allowing free gratification of natural human drives while restraint suppresses this gratification.

How Does National Culture Affect Organizational Culture?


Each of the Hofstede cultural dimensions examples influences organizational decision-making at the highest level, for better or worse. The impact of national culture on organizational culture is clear as the dimensions affect several managerial functions. These functions range from motivation to communication to reward systems. Furthermore, national institutions such as labor laws, educational practices, and industrial standards influence organizational culture. National cultural values permeate mental programs, and how people behave in an organization reflects those programs.


What is Organizational Culture?


Woman leader building organizational culture

What are the parameters of setting an organizational culture?


Organizational culture is a combination of expectations, values, and practices that guides the actions of team members within an organization. Creating organizational culture involves cultivating a team culture embedded with these guidelines and ensuring that employees understand how management wants them to respond to any situation.


Plus, employees know that they will be duly rewarded for consistently displaying company values.


How is Organizational Culture Formed?


The responsibility falls on employers to hire people who best exemplify these values. Employers should also develop strong training and performance management programs to reiterate the organization’s core values while assuring employees of recognition and reward for showing these values.


Canadian management consultant and psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques is oft-cited as the person who introduced the concept of organizational culture thanks to his 1951 book, The Changing Culture of a Factory. Since then academics, psychologists, and business authors have evolved several organizational models. The most common types of organizational culture that companies typically implement or naturally evolve into are:


  • Clan culture - is a type of organizational culture that focuses on interpersonal relationships and collaboration, breaking barriers to create tight-knit teams. This leads to more mentoring relationships, engaged employees, and creates a family-like atmosphere. Family businesses, startups, and small businesses typically run with this model.

  • Adhocracy - Adaptability and challenging the status quo are the characteristics of organizational culture in this model. Change is embraced with confidence, with leaders prioritizing creativity and initiative. While it can lead to a highly competitive workplace, it’s designed to facilitate motivation and innovation across the board.

  • Market culture - A result-oriented approach driven by ambitious employers who consistently push people to achieve and meet organizational targets.

  • Hierarchy culture - This is a more traditional structure that strictly adheres to policy and process—characteristics of organizational culture for a hierarchy center around a chain of established command.


Can you spot your own organization on this list?


Why is Organizational Culture Important?


Positive culture changes in the workplace affect every organizational aspect, from punctuality to employee benefits. The more inclusive and embracing an organizational culture is, the more employees will feel valued and comfortable to be themselves. Additionally, organizations that emphasize positive cultural habits stand a better chance of navigating difficult stretches and changes within the business environment. Around 77% of workers consider organizational culture before signing on with a company, while more than 50% would ditch their job for lower-paying opportunities with a better organizational culture.


Understanding these cultural nuances allows employers to facilitate better customs and more inclusive practices so everyone feels welcome, particularly groups of people that face more inequities than others.


Let’s have a Tough Convo today to talk about your organizational culture and what you can do to optimize it.