Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

Organisational culture determines your fate as a leader – be careful!

This blog is a continuation of ‘The Effective Organization: Organizational-vitals and bionic-balance’ series that discusses the leadership organizational-vital (OV) and how its sub-elements combine with other OV’s (Strategy, Design, and People) to bring about a state of organisational bionic-balance (BB) and SMART organisation.

Organisational-Vitals (OV) and Bionic-Balance (BB)

We discuss how the culture in the organisation can become an enabler or disabler for leaders. Effective leaders need an appropriate culture and context for them to thrive in their jobs.

We explore below the types of organisational culture and how they impact leadership efficacy at organisations

Organisational culture and leadership efficacy:

Organisational culture is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which governs how people behave in organisations. These shared values have a strong influence on the people in the organisation and dictate how they dress, act, and perform their jobs.

We use Charles Handy’s work to elaborate organisational culture and its impact on leadership efficacy:

Handy defines four organisational culture types:

The Power Culture:

According to Handy, this culture is akin to a spider’s web – the spider oversees its entire eco-system sitting in the centre. The power centre, in the spider, is surrounded by circles of associates. Closeness to the spider in the centre brings power to those that assume such position.

Organisations with a power culture share a number of characteristics: they respond very quickly to disaster as the lines of command are very clear; they attract a certain profile of staff – power oriented, politically minded, and risk-taking individuals; and power is got from one’s ability to control resources.

Individual success is judged on results – therefore, power determines success. Such organisations are traditionally tough and abrasive. Often, success is accompanied by low morale and high staff turnover. Success in such an environment is achieved when employees anticipate what is expected of them by the bosses and align results to the boss’s expectations.  Power culture entities maintain tight and centralised fiscal regimes.

The Role Culture:

Handy describes the role culture organisation as a building supported by columns and beams. Like structurally viable buildings, columns and beams are designed to fulfil a certain role in sustaining the structural integrity of the building.

Organisations with a role culture share a number of characteristics: strong functional or specialised areas that are coordinated by a small team of seniors at the apex of the organisation; we call it the Coca-Cola effect; in this case manifesting in high levels of formalisation and standardisation; formal job definitions and the accompanying authority matrix.

Power in this type of organisation is held by individuals in high-level positions. The political dynamics of the power culture are not tolerated in this type of entity. Rules and procedures define what is right to do. This type of entity works well in extremely stable environments, something that is increasingly rare in a turbulent 24/7 world. This organisation augers well in industries where technocracy is preferred to agility. Role culture entities do not tolerate change very well.

Such an entity offers job security, and the opportunity to deepen technical expertise – but is extremely disorienting to the ambitious and power oriented employee. Millenials will struggle to work for a role oriented entity.

The Task Culture:

The task culture is project or task specific. The matrix type organisation thrives in the task culture

The emphasis in this type of entity is getting the job done. The work rubric is: to identify the task at hand, how to go about its accomplishment on time, and identifying and mobilising the resources needed. The task culture is about getting the best out of teams. Managing the psychology of teams for results is key to delivering SMART outcomes. Team members with expertise in team tasks enjoy significant influence over the others. However, because every team members ideally contributes some kind of expertise, power is more widely shared amongst team members

Organisations with a task culture share a number of characteristics: teamwork produces results; the structure of such organisations is flexible since it is mostly based on specific task needs; decision making is fast as each group is empowered to make decisions that steer them towards task outcomes. An example of a task culture is NASA, the US space agency. Its single task in the 1960’s was to put a man on the moon and bring them home safely.

Those of you that love autonomy in their work will thrive in this kind of culture. This type of organisation culture is perfect in the fast moving and highly competitive environments.

The millennial leader will thrive in an authentic task culture

The Person Culture:

Person organisational culture is quite unusual as it serves individual needs. We may consider it a ‘selfish’ culture since it serves the interests of the central individual.

It is important to note that this kind of entity is rare, and may never operate as an independent organisation. Instead, it operates within the culture types listed above. A good example is a specialist consultant in a hospital environment that runs both GP services as well as private specialist clinics. Such individuals have specialised skills and are extremely employable and therefore in high demand – they’re also difficult to manage and as they don’t have to bend to the power manoeuvres at the organisation.

It ought to be noted that there are many other authorities on organisational culture that you can consult, should you need to look at other culture variants. However, for purposes of this blog, Handy’s organisational culture types are enough to illustrate the point; that leadership efficacy can be impacted by the fit between organisational culture and individual leadership biomarkers

Organisational culture vs. individual leadership biomarkers:

Well then, how do specific organisational cultures influence leadership efficacy? After all, if you are born a leader, you should have the biomarkers to lead, irrespective of the type of organisation culture. Priests are priests to all their flock, both the difficult and easy to shepherd

While those called upon to lead have generic leadership biomarkers, they also have unique individual biomarkers. Unique individual biomarkers determine the success or failure of anointed leaders in certain organisational cultures.

We have said all along that leaders that succeed at creating bionically balanced and SMART organisations, successfully integrate all four vitals [ leadership, strategy, design, and people]. However, to integrate the four vitals requires mental focus as well as a healthy soul and mind. As discussed in our earlier series, leadership is increasingly becoming a mind and soul matter. Therefore, leaders attain mental wellness, when they feel at home in the organisation environment they work in every day. Attaining the latter status requires matching a leader’s unique biomarkers to particular organisational cultures. The latter is the foundation for leaders to successfully integrate the four organisational vitals and attain a state of organisational bionic-balance and SMART organisation

For example, to succeed at a power culture organisation requires one to exhibit a knack for understanding and manipulating power and relations at work, anticipating the future, and taking risk. Power culture survivors are politically savvy. The opposite is true at a task culture organisation where power is more widely distributed, and the psychology of teams is paramount to achieving specific task outcomes. Like the power organisation, success at the task organisation is to do with manipulating people and situations, but from a completely different lens. Power organisations take a unitarist, and task organisations a more pluralistic approach

A leader may be effective in one organisation and not the other. Every organisational culture type fits or not, a particular type of leader

When choosing the organisation to lead, ensure that there is significant fit between the corporate culture vs. your leadership biomarker type


6 responses to “Organisational culture determines your fate as a leader – be careful!”

  1. […] again, we use Charles Handy’s work to elaborate organizational culture and its impact on organizational design. We explore the […]


  2. […] to succeed in leadership: that like priests, leaders are ‘anointed’ by the omnipotent; the culture in a particular organization determines the leader’s success i.e. that leadership efficacy is […]


  3. Keeping – it -simple -stupid (kiss), we can also define organizational culture as a set of consistent and observable pattern of behavior at the organization. Looking at it as such can help us determine how culture can influence structure, processes and incentives. In most cases culture helps us to design and define a system of controls – especially if this organizational culture is built on some fabric of morals/civilization.


    1. Thanks seddu for reading the blog – the accountant in you did go straight to the control piece – can’t blame you!

      Our focus was on org. culture and its impact on the success or failure of a leader

      This particular blog has enlisted a number of readings on LinkedIn, etc.

      May that be a sign that it is something leaders are interested in – or even, don’t always pay attention to?

      We are happy to see the brains that God gave us as leaders, stretched


  4. Thank you Apollo. I have been a disciple of Charles Handy over many years. This remains a powerful four part typology. I remember hearing him lecture in Henley and citing the spider at the centre of the web as a metaphor for the power culture. “Like the headmaster in his school” he went on to say. It was probably 30 years ago, but things haven’t changed so much in run of the mill schools.


    1. Indeed – thanks for reading the blog. Handy provides a firm foundation for OD. Junkies like myself to analyse org. culture and it’s various impacts on the modern organization

      He keeps-it-simple-stupid


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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