Development Cooperation Handbook/The development aid organization/Organizational Culture

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Organizational Culture

Organization Triangle

At the base of the identity of an organisational is its organizational culture. A culture is comprised of the shared values, customs, traditions, rituals, behaviours and beliefs shared by a social group (national, ethnic, organizational, etc.). Cultures also share languages, or ways of speaking. From a communication perspective, cultures are made and remade through the words we use to describe our world. Culture represents a common set of values (“shared meanings”), shared by members of a population, a organization, a project/programme purpose unit or a profession (e.g., engineers versus scientists). Culture change with the times but the speed at which the culture of different institutions change varies widely.

Organizational culture plays several important roles.  

  • culture unites (brings together) employees by providing a sense of identity with the organization.
  • culture enables organizations to differentiate themselves from one another.
  • culture often generates commitment, superceding personal interests.
  • culture sets organization norms, rules and standards. Thereby, culture enables employees to function in an organization, by teaching them how to behave.
  • culture becomes especially important in a program/project based organization. In such a organization, the hierarchy is flat and decision-making is moved to the project/programme purpose units and departments. In this context, culture provides the guiding light towards achievement of goals and objectives.

Elements of Organizational Culture[edit]

Organizations (e.g., project/programme purpose organizations) develop their own culture. The culture of a organization consists of elements that are valued and practiced. The emerging challenges for communicating and organizing in a global/local operational environment (think globally, act locally) are based on understanding the interrelationships among cultural differences, communication behaviors, and organizational relationships both within and outside of the organization. The challange for a manager is to examine the current culture and style of communication operating within an organization and to develop communication skills that will allow for the insight, sensitivity, vision, versatility, focus, patience, and global-localism called for in today’s complex work environment.

The following list outlines some of the key elements of organizational culture:

  • Values: The goals, views, and philosophies that an organization shares. Example: The organization’s mission statement.
  • Rites and Rituals: Celebrations, performances, and activities that foster and reinforce teamwork, esprit de corps, and a sense of inclusion. They are what make employees feel part of something bigger than themselves, that that something is worth being a part of. These can include annual parties, sales meetings, organizational retreats, or any other group activities.. see Organizationally sanctioned Social events
  • Heroes: Members of the organization who personify its values and highlight its vision.
  • Communication Networks: Informal channels that relay both work and social messages. These networks not only convey information necessary to get the job done, but also provide for necessary social interaction among employees. Even though the primary task in any organization is to do our jobs, the organization is also a social outlet. It is important to acknowledge and even nurture the social interaction that is part of any organizational or organizational culture. Communication networks also indoctrinate new members into the culture, and reinforce the cultural messages in the organization.
  • Norms: The ways of doing things in an organization; the rules, tasks and standards of the organization. Examples: Dress codes or ways of addressing superiors/subordinates, leading ethics, etc.
  • Stories, Myths, and Legends: The organizational history and other stories that embody the organizational culture and emphasize what the organization values.  .
  • Organizational Communication Climate:  The atmosphere of either supportiveness or defensiveness that people feel within the organization itself. Do they feel safe? Protected? Appreciated? Are they confidant that their opinions count? Do they know that when they have something to say, they have a way to say it so that it will be heard, and that people will listen and take their ideas or comments seriously? The overall organizational climate also includes the organization’s communication climate—how free people feel to communicate at work, especially about bad news or negative information. When people feel they cannot communicate bad news for fear of reprisal, the organization loses valuable information about how it operates. more in ⇒ [[Development Cooperation Handbook/Communication and Knowledge Management/The communication climate in Organizations and Teams|communication climate].


Values as the Elements generating a Strong and Healthy Culture[edit]

Both internal and external stakeholders benefit from a strong organizational culture. In the most general sense: A strong organizational culture provides work community identity, a sense of uniqueness, and sense of connection for all members within the organization.

Internal stakeholders benefit from a strong organizational culture because people are a organization’s greatest resource and the way to manage them is by the subtle cues of culture; strong culture helps employees do their jobs better. A strong culture fosters better employee motivation because internal stakeholders are better able to understand what is expected of them and are able to more strongly identify with the organization when the culture is strong.

External stakeholders benefit from an organization’s healthy culture as well.  The organizations and organizations that do the best job thinking through what they are all about, deciding how and to whom these central messages should be communicated and executing the communication plan in a quality way, invariably build a strong sense of esprit within their own organization and among the many constituents they serve. Knowledge about an organizational culture—again, when it is healthy and strong—gives internal and external members a sense of purpose and importance within the organization because they adopt the organization’s shared meaning. As an organizational undergoes change, as your organization is now doing, the issue of culture becomes even more critical because it is generally called into question. Nonetheless, managers are still faced with the challenge of providing some cultural continuity as change is initiated and as an organization grows.

Organizations with strong cultures place a great emphasis on values values and have some fundamental characteristics in common:

  • The organization stands for something. They have a clear and explicit philosophy about how they go about accomplishing their program purpose objectives. The values explicit in their philosophy help create the identity of the organization and characterize and differentiate it from others organizations.
  • Management focuses a great deal of attention to determining and fine-tuning these values. This is done so that the organization’s values conform to its project/programme purpose environment. Such a focus also helps communicate these values to people who work in the organization.
  • Values are understood and shared by all people who work for the organization. Everyone from production workers to the senior management team is familiar with and accepts the values of the organization. The organization’s values create a reality for those who work in the organization. This reality allows employees to cooperate and collaborate to make the shared values effective in their interactions and how they perform their jobs.

Fundamental to value definition and management is the approach to organization development and its focus upon learning in the organization, the communication climate and the modality to generate a team spirit  amongst employees at various levels.


Strong cultures foster better employee motivation because employees are better able to understand what is expected of them and are more able to strongly identify with the organization. They are “part of” something bigger than themselves. Not only that, but they know what it is they are “part of,” and how they contribute to its overall operations and goals. It gives them a sense of purpose and importance within the organization because they adopt the organization’s values. 

or values to be accepted, behavior must be consistent with messages about values that are extensively shared. There are two general principles one can follow to set the stage for matching promises and behavior.

  1. 1 visibly show values through action  : internal and external stakeholders will believe what you say when you DO what you say you are going to do!
  2. 2 set a performance standard  : establish and enforce a standard of performance that everyone in the organization would be expected to maintain, including yourself. Let external stakeholders such as beneficiaries, investors and the media know you by how well you take care of their interests.

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A basic assumption of this manual is that the best managerial style for a development aid organization is of designing and managing itself and its culture in such a way as to make itself :

The combination of these three factors the nurturing of a communication climate such as to work strategically, collaboratively and cost-effectively, being innovative and accountable.



See also[edit]

  • in other sections of this handbook
  • on Wikipedia
600X WIKIPEDIA LOGO.svg Organizational culture