What is organizational culture?

What analogies for organizational culture have you come across in your career? Are there any visuals that come to mind for this concept? I’d like to offer you a garden analogy as we explore organizational culture. 

Garden Analogy

Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness (2018) provides an analogy of a garden for us to consider. Imagine that the garden itself is your organization. Now, when we think about gardens, maybe you have one on your deck or in your backyard – we want the garden to be maintained and cared for as a whole. We want the garden to be storm ready – we want the garden to be watered and nourished by the sun. And the key to the growth of the flowers and the plants, is that weeds do not overtake them!

Culture Creator

In Stronger People Leaders (2020), we see that one of the essential roles of a people leader is to be a Culture Creator. And, continuing this garden analogy, we see the people leader as a gardener who tends to the health and thriving of the organization.

Let’s dive into organizational culture a bit more. In Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture (2011), we see that organizational culture “represents how things are around here.” Organizational culture involves the assumptions, norms, behaviors, and values that guide how the team and organization operate.

Iceberg Visual

When I asked about analogy, did the iceberg come to mind for you? The iceberg metaphor is a helpful visual for us to consider when considering the various organizational culture levels. 

In Organizational Culture and Leadership (2010), Schein notes the three levels of culture.

  • Level 1 consists of unconscious or underlying assumptions.
  • Level 2 consists of espoused beliefs, values, aspirations, and rationalizations. 
  • Level 3 consists of visible or observable structures, processes, artifacts, or behaviors.

Level 1 serves as the base of the iceberg – wholly hidden underneath the water. Level 2 is also underwater but nears the surface. And Level 3 aspects of culture are those aspects that are visible and seen.

Organizational culture is essential because it outlines how individuals make decisions, set priorities, and establish accepted behaviors. Further, culture serves as a way to create and maintain long-term standards for the organization – unobservable assumptions to observable behaviors. 

Leader Reflection Question

I’ll ask you, how are you creating a positive and healthy culture in your work context?

ready to strengthen the leadership of your team