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The Effectiveness-Lab

Organisational design and culture – silent partners

This blog twins design and culture and discusses how one influences the other. It’s only fair that we remind everyone the definition of organizational culture.

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

Yet again, we use Charles Handy’s work to elaborate organizational culture and its impact on organizational design. We explore the various types of organizational culture and how they impact organizational architecture

Handy defines four organizational 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 center. The center of power, in the spider, is surrounded by circles of associates. Closeness to the spider, at the center, brings power to those that take such a position.

Organisations with a power culture share some characteristics: they respond very quickly to disaster as the lines of command are obvious; they attract a particular 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.

The power culture orientation augurs well with the geographical organizational architecture. The configuration is used when companies have operations spread across global, regional, and national borders. It works best in instances where local decision-making is needed to meet the unique needs of a particular market. The leadership is deployed by country or regional geography.

This set-up requires a robust oversight and control mechanism at the center. It usually brings about accusations of meddling and micro-management by the center and can be an ‘initiative/innovation-killer.’

  • The Role Culture:

Handy describes the role culture organization as a building supported by columns and beams. Like structurally viable buildings, columns and beams are designed to fulfill a specific role in sustaining the integrity of the structure.

Organisations with a role culture share some characteristics: strong functional or specialized areas that are coordinated by a small team of seniors at the apex of the organization; in this case manifesting in high levels of formalization and standardization; formal job definitions and the accompanying authority matrix.

Power in this type of organization 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 organization augers well in industries where technocracy is preferred to agility.

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

Power culture organizations have a natural fit for the bureaucratic or functional organizational structure. The functional design type encourages units to work in silos with very minimal horizontal collaboration. The main idea behind the functional architecture is to allow employees to apply their specialist skills to the most appropriate department or function.

  • The Task Culture:

The task culture is project or task specific. The matrix type organization 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 mobilizing 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 member ideally contributes some kind of expertise, power is more widely shared amongst team members.

Organisations with a task culture share many characteristics: teamwork produces results; the structure of such organizations is flexible since it’s mostly based on specific task needs; decision making is fast as each group is empowered to make decisions that steer them towards task outcomes.

Those of you that love autonomy in their work will thrive in this kind of culture. This type of organizational culture is perfect in the fast-moving and highly competitive environments. The millennial leader will thrive in an authentic task culture

The task culture aligns very well with both the matrix and networked organization. Matrix entities are mostly project-based entities working on stretch targets. Big engineering projects are an obvious example. Project teams tap into a pool of central services as and when required.

While on the other hand, the networked/loose organization has certain unique characteristics: boundary-less – emphasizes collaboration – is horizontally networked and values horizontal than vertical power and influence – rapidly innovates – and is mostly technology focused. Firms of this nature are continually pushing teams and individuals to achieve stretch goals. They have continuously shifting goals. They are ideal territory for the bionically balanced entity that balances multiple OV’s at any one time: strategy, leadership, design, and people.

  • The Person Culture:

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

It’s important to note that this kind of entity is rare, and may never operate as an independent organization. Instead, it works 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 specialized skills and are extraordinarily employable and therefore in high demand – they’re also tricky to manage since they don’t have to bend to the power maneuvers at the organization.

The Person culture, for all its entrepreneurial traits, aligns itself well with both the product and customer/market organizational design configurations. The product configuration is determined according to the products or services that the company offers. It works best when there is a need to encourage entrepreneurialism.

On the other hand, the customer/market setup is influenced by few but critical customers that the businesses rely on. As a result, they configure their organizations around the service needs of these customers or markets.

The interconnection between organizational culture and design is apparent. Handy’s organizational culture types paint a clear picture of how culture influences design and the vice versa.  All the above is enough to illustrate the point that bionic entities are always about more than one OV and that various cause and effect scenarios impact the overall organizational health.

So, please remember to appropriately situate culture when choosing your organizational design archetype








One response to “Organisational design and culture – silent partners”

  1. […] culture in an organization also influences design. A specific organizational culture archetype may not work […]


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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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