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A Typology of Organisational Cultures (bmj.com)
126 points by luu 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments

This reminds me of the organizational paradigms[1] from Reinventing Organisations [2]

I think they map quite easily as:

Power oriented → Amber "command and control"

Rule oriented → Orange "predict-and-control" (management by objectives)

Performance oriented → Green "culture and empowerment"

[1] See "Exhibit 1" table: https://www.strategy-business.com/article/00344?gko=10921 [2] https://www.reinventingorganizations.com/

> the kind of conditions that create good information flow tend to be those that favour cooperation, creativity, and safety. On the other side, conditions that interfere with information flow also tend to decrease creativity, create conflict, and make the organisation involved less safe.

Although management and leadership do play an extremely important role in shaping culture, I wonder whether the kinds of tools and technology an organisation uses can also have a significant impact.

My guess is that creating transparent data sharing capabilities within an organisation would undermine the political point scoring that some people achieve with information hording/hiding. Being able to comment on data and processes from any part of an organisation would also encourage a culture of empowerment and orient individuals and teams towards the mission of the organisation rather than each individual unit. Technology could achieve this kind of impact if it were broadly adopted across the organisation.

What role do tools like Slack, Salesforce and Airtable have in shaping the culture of an organisation?

Some organisations partaking in software development, to this day, do not have ANY kind of source control repository. If you want to be horrified by (lack of) a technology impacting organisational culture, spend some time in one of those places where there is no vocabulary, no interest, and even no concept of more than one person seeing a given project's code.

Personally, I think they do have a role; having worked at companies where code review was informal and managed via email/chat, and companies where code review occurs more openly via pull/merge requests and conversations transparent to all engineers, the tooling makes a big difference.

I'd also go further and say that the way the tools and the workflows within them are designed ends up having an influence on the organizations that use them (and of course, there's a feedback loop there as the organizations request changes/features).

This means there ends up being a real culture battle for transparency and accountability at the infrastructure and tooling level. Some people participating might not even consider the implications, but there are certainly vested interests who would prefer more closed/controlled environments, and competing interests who prefer more open and transparent environments which lend themselves to the kind of local fix / global fix / inquiry end of the spectrum mentioned in the article.

In my profesdional experience, zero; in terms of changing the power structure of an organisation.

Same. Any tool/infra that threatens the culture/statu-quo from the power structure will be, at best, impactless, at worst, will trigger a real internal war that will resolve with layoffs (been there - it ended bad for everyone).

It _has to_ come from the group culture, which is empowered by the good will of the power structure, that comes from the top (investors, board, executive managers).

If it's not there, it will never be, change lanes.

Edit to add:

And if it _is_ there, it might go, because it's a fragile equilibrium (any change of course in the management/board can be a red flag).

I have seen much change coming from tools that instead of requiring a different way to do things, just allows both, but makes the different one more productive while not impacting the previous one.

Of course, the tools must have some political support. But they do enable status-quo changes.

There's some research in the "Accelerate" book that talks about this. For example, having an automated CI/CD pipeline decreases stress measures (iirc).

I fail to see this in practice in any of the orgs i have worked. The bigger the orgs, more the number of these tools are involved, and still higher information hording/hiding.

Tools/tech just won't fix people issue.

Great article.

> The most critical issue for organisational safety is the flow of information

Puts me in mind of management cybernetics, viable system model (VSM), requisite variety, etc. Would recommend a book by a friend of mine, Patrick Hoverstadt's The Fractal Organisation. Uses VSM to identify organisational antipatterns, rather like the article but much more fully developed.

Aaah, good old Stafford Beer.


If you liked this, you might enjoy reading up on Graham Allison's "Bureaucratic Process" model of government: https://cesran.org/the-bureaucratic-politics-approach-its-ap... (this is an intro though the original paper is available in JSTOR and/or can read his book "Essence of Decision")

I am just curious, what must happen to change pathological culture to a better one. New leader on top will fight against entrenched middle level managers backed by buddies of these in upper layers. Anybody bellow will be put in uncomfortable position and leave sooner or later. I would say, pathological culture is here to stay and eventually can be changed only by replacing large chunk of organization.

It's the same general pattern that whether the change is good or bad: a new leader comes in who starts changing the organizational structure and communication pathways, and who removes/replaces individuals not on board with the new direction. It's just that most of the time the net result is negative.

Fixing problems requires knowing what is actually wrong with the organization. If the problem is that your organization is overcome with bureaucracy, then the solution start with enabling a subdivision sufficient autonomy to pursue objectives without being disrupted by meddlers and busy-bodies.

If you adopt this article's three-category system (or any system with a finite number of ordered categories), then I think in the long run the number of positive and negative changes have to converge toward equality.

If we hear more stories of negative changes, then maybe the negative ones are more memorable, or people are more likely to comment on them.

Look at what Satya did - he directed a broad effort at the entire organization (a book, etc), and simultaneously pushed the ELT to get in line, firing them one by one when they or their directs didn't comply. They're all in line now, as are their directs.

The broader culture change takes more time, but the ship is definitely moving.

I guess its about creating incentives of one form of behavior over the other. If it pays off to hide information and knowledge rather than sharing it then that's what you get as predominant culture by means of selection (Now guess which strategy is more likely to get you a career in the average setting)

That's what organisational transformations are for

Big company cultures seems to converge over time to a bureaucratic style so to me it seems like organisational transformations mostly just moves it in the conventional direction.

For example, Google wanted to transforms its organisation to be more friendly to business contracts. Seems like a good idea, but said transformation is destroying the generative culture and makes it more bureaucratic like Oracle or Microsoft.

I really like the book 'the dictator's army' which is partially about how information practices affect battlefield effectiveness in militaries, and the reasons countries knowingly adopt bad practices.

It introduced me to the word 'coup proofing'.

My favorite read on the topic: Images of Organization by Gareth Morgan


In the study, the organizational performance metric was the safety of patients undergoing medical procedures.

It's not clear whether the generative culture would be optimal if a different metric, such as return on investment, had been chosen.

This kind of hypothesis would be so easy for aliens to test, but so hard for humans.

Related: http://cwsworkshop.org/PARC_site_B/dr-culture.html Common aspects of workplace culture we could question.


They had very different circumstances: Bill Gates was the son of made parents, his father was a partner within the firm Preston Gates & Ellis, his mother was on board of directors for First Interstate BancSystem and therefore the United Way.

Bill got a sweetheart deal from IBM, partially thanks to his mother serving on the United Way board with Jon Opel, chair of IBM.

Steve Jobs was adopted by Paul Jobs, a mechanic and a carpenter, and Clara Jobs, who was a payroll clerk for Varian Associates. Neither of his adoptive parents had the chance to attend college.

Jobs sold his minivan and Wozniak sold his HP scientific calculator to initially fund development of the Apple I.

If you've got the choice of being born to oldsters with extreme wealth and connections, I highly recommend it over fundraising.

Wrong comment section?

Seems a bit simplistic. What's it doing in the BMJ?

Because many of the the issues discussed have lessons that are relevant in a medical context; e.g.

> Edmondson’s study provides a striking confirmation, in a medical context, of the value of this scheme

It never hurts to remind practitioners of these issues, especially in organisations where safety has life-or-death consequences.

This is their Quality & Safety journal, the paper is looking at organisational factors, in particular leadership and how they can affect effective clinical innovation and clinical safety.

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