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4 types of organizational culture

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4 types of organizational culture

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I wrote earlier this year about the work of Geert Hofstede in developing the power distance index.  The index ranks countries along a line from small power distance to large power distance.  The range is measured across a variety of factors, most of which are broadly aligned with how authority is treated in that country.

In small power distance cultures for instance, respect is earned by ability rather than status, people are treated as equals, everyone is expected to show initiative and so on.  You can easily imagine social businesses as being small power distance organizations, with their industrial era peers stuck in the large power distance group.

The application of this kind of thinking is something that Russell Ackoff has devoted his life to.  He suggested that power relationships in an organizational context can best be applied along two axis.  The axis would allow managers to explore both the ends and the means of their particular organization.

He believed that a social system, of which of course an organization is one, can best be defined by how they sit along these two scales.  Lets look at each of the four possible states:

  1. Ends autocratic/means autocratic – in this kind of environment, it’s common for one person to be all powerful and make decisions that affect all employees.  This is best typified by dictators/monarchs, so it’s perhaps hard to visualize many organizations like this.
  2. Ends autocratic/means democratic – here, the ends are passed down to employees from executives, but the means of achieving those aims are more collaboratively determined.  Autonomous work groups for instance are a well used example of this kind of approach.
  3. Ends democratic/means autocratic – this approach is not so common in the private sector, but is more so in social welfare organizations such as hospitals.  After all, the patients have next to no control over the means of their treatment.  Such an approach assumes that people don’t know the best means of achieving an outcome, therefore need ‘experts’ to decide for them.
  4. Ends democratic/means democratic – the final approach sees democracy applied throughout.  This is very much the model applied in servant leadership style organizations.

It’s clear that these approaches will affect how an organization operates, and indeed next week I will explore how these models feed through to how an organization plans.  In the meantime, which of these quadrants do you think your own organization fits into?

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