Organizational Culture Theory: Things to Know and How to Use it in the Workplace

Organizational Culture Theory: Things to Know and How to Use it in the Workplace

Before we even begin to tackle organizational culture theory we have to understand what culture is. I think that ‘culture’ is often disregarded as something abstract and awkward. It’s a common mistake to think that culture can be disregarded; the actions and results it produces are stark and concrete therefore culture cannot be ignored.

The company culture taken apart

But what is culture? Organizational culture theory emphasizes that culture is a set of values that an organization or group of people have in common. Seven elements make up an organizational culture:

  1. Structural stability. All cultures are held together quite rigidly by their own values and beliefs. It’s what identifies the group and resists any changes to the members.
  2. Breadth. Culture is pervasive and touches every part of the organization. Even if someone doesn’t fully adhere or agree with the culture, they are subject to it anyway since it’s what is generally accepted.
  3. Depth. Do not underestimate how ingrained and unconscious culture is present in any group. It’s how people act and not have to explain their actions to their peers.
  4. Patterning or integration. When the members of the group exhibit the same behavior over a period of time, it means that culture makes their beliefs coherent.
  5. Visible artifacts. The office is a great example of an artifact important to organizational culture theory. But mostly these are things that are very apparent on the surface of the group such as hierarchy, interaction and attitudes during meetings.
  6. Espoused beliefs, values, rules and behavioral norms. When you look up at the company corkboard or its website and you see the mission and visions then you’ve seen these element.
  7. Underlying, taken-for-granted assumption. There are tacit, basic things that explain the artifacts and beliefs.

You can’t go wrong with culture if you use these assumptions

All these put together create the culture in your workplace. Now, if you want to use organizational culture theory to understand your team and business, here are some things to remember:

Groups do not exist in a vacuum. The industry, the community and the environment your team exists in, shapes the way its members act. You’re a good leader if you can successfully manage your team in its chosen environment or industry.


Culture should be agreed upon and accepted by your team members. When your people don’t agree on some beliefs, practices and rituals in your team, organizational culture theory states that conflict and issues may arise.


Culture dictates the reality. I think that accepting what is true and real is one of the most difficult parts of working in a group. Determine the context of your group. If it’s a high-context group then people determine what is real based on circumstance while a low context group has universally-accepted norms and rules.


A group’s time orientation may vary. I think that it’s a bit funny that some organizations like to do things one at a time while other are great at doing a lot of projects all at the same time. Make sure your teams and departments are on the same time orientation.


A group’s orientation towards work should be the same across its members. Since you’re all there because of work, one of the most important things you should do as a leader is get everyone on the same page. There are three ways you can approach work:

  • Make your team successful by achieving expansive growth and creating a new kind of value in your industry.
  • Gain a comfortable part of the market in your industry that can simply sustain your business indefinitely.
  • Emphasize your team’s personal growth and creativity through breakthroughs and innovation .


Using organizational culture theory to analyze your workplace may be your first step to understanding your staff and the people you work with. Make sure you do not make your team anxious and be as subtle as the culture you’re trying to observe.

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