Some have defined an organisations' culture as been the learned solutions to problems which are ultimately embodied as an interrelated patterned set of basic assumptions that deal with ultimate issues (see Tip 10 below).
Many of these assumptions are underlying, almost unconscious and so are taken for granted because they have repeatedly worked in dealing with problems.
And of course within an organisation there can be multiple cultures (often linked to members occupational backgrounds).
Below are 10 tips on how to identify an organisation’s culture, many of these focus on identifying what the underlying assumptions of the organisations’ culture are. Where the tip is to find out or interview then consider interviewing supervisors, leaders and older peers.
These tips are derived from this winter 1984 article in the Sloane Management Review on “Coming to a new awareness of organisational culture” by Edgar H Schein
10 tips on identifying an organisations' culture
1) Start by looking at what is visible – like how offices are laid out or the dress code or how people behave with bosses or the technology used or documents in the public domain and the values they include.
2) identify an insider who is representative of the culture - and who wants to identify their own assumptions - and then jointly explore with them observations/anomalies about the organisation that puzzle outsiders.
3) on external adaptation - find out what the consensus is on the following aspects of the organisation: primary task or core mission; goals and performance measures, reward system and organisation structure, remedial strategies when goals aren’t accomplished.
4) on internal integration - find out what the consensus is on the following aspects of the organisation: common language and conceptual categories; boundaries and inclusion/exclusion criteria; power and status allocation criteria, intimacy and friendship criteria; reward and punishment criteria; ideology in the face of unexplainable events.
5) define a biography of the organisation - in terms of major periods of culture formation and what was done, why it was done and what the outcome was – then look for major themes in the reasons given for the actions taken.
6) learning in problem solving or anxiety avoidance situations - identify in which of these two types of situation the organisation learned it's solutions to problems (with problem solving situations a learned solution will be used until it ceases to work, with anxiety avoidance situations a learned solution is more likely to be repeated indefinitely as such a response does not test whether the cause of the anxiety is still operating).
7) try to identify "parent" culture assumptions - so parent could be society or the larger organisation.
8) identify how the group describes “how the world is” - and the way of perceiving, thinking, feeling and acting passed on with conviction to new members.
9) consider what assumptions people have refused to discuss - or where you have been considered “insane” or “ignorant” for bringing them up – these are often signs you are touching underlying assumptions
10) cross check - ensure the assumptions you have identified using the 9 tips above cover the following 5 criteria: a) the environment (e.g. dominance, submission, harmonizing); b) reality, truth, time, space, property (e.g what real and what not, truth revealed or discovered? time linear or cyclical?, space limited or infinite?, property communal or individual?); c) human nature (e.g. what attributes are intrinsic or ultimate? good, evil or neutral? perfectible or not?); d) human activity (e.g what right to do, active, passive, fatalistic, what is work and what is play); e) human relationships (e.g. distribute power and love? cooperative or competitive? Individualistic or communal? lineal authority, law or charisma?)