Characteristics of organisational culture

Organisational Culture Meaning, Definition, Characteristics, Elements of

Table of Contents:-

  1. Organisational Culture Meaning 
  2. Organisational Culture Definition
  3. Organisational Culture Characteristics
  4. Elements of Organisational Culture
  5. Types of Organisational Culture

Organisational Culture Meaning 

Organisational Culture refers to the essence or traits of the organisation. It signifies the unofficial aspects of the organisation instead of its professional aspects. It emphasises the values, beliefs and customs of the employees of the organisation and how the aspects resulted in mixed meanings. The nature of culture is informal, with symbols and rituals at its core, rather than being formal.

It defines what type of people will prefer working in an organisation and who will be successful. Culture also provides guidelines regarding the training and development of employees. It states the kind of knowledge and abilities required by the employees to give better performance in the organization.

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Organisational culture refers to the common values and beliefs that prevail in an organisation, and enable employees to understand the roles and customs of an organisation. Specific organizational characteristics serve as indicators of organisational culture. These distinctive features differentiate one organisation from the other. Also, performance styles and experiences play a vital role in building the culture of an organisation. It is the surroundings in which an employee and organisation connect.

Organisational Culture Definition

According to O’Reilly, “Organizational culture is the set of assumptions, beliefs, values, and norms that are shared by an organisation’s members”. 

According to Schein, “Organisational culture is a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned it solved its problems that have worked well enough to be considered valid and are passed on to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel about those problems”

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Organisational Culture Characteristics

Following are some of the essential characteristics of organisational culture:

1) Prescriptive

It sets the standard for the attitude that society endorses.

2) Socially Shared

An organisation’s culture should necessarily be based on the social norms created and followed by society. A culture can’t have a particular existence. Social sharing among people reinforces the culture’s prescriptive nature.

3) Smoothens Communication

Culture also helps in providing a platform for communication among people who belong to the same culture. Alternatively, it can also hinder communication among people from different groups due to different cultural values.

4) Learned

Culture is not inborn. Individuals acquire it through gradual learning and attainment. Socialisation or enculturation takes place when an individual learns and practices a culture in which he is born and brought up. On the contrary, acculturation takes place when a person learns and practices a different culture than the one with which he is not familiar.

5) Subjective

People born in different cultures have different thought processes. The ideas that are acceptable in one culture might not necessarily be acceptable in another culture. In this context, culture possesses attributes of both subjectivity and exceptionality. Consequently, the same event occurring in two different cultures can have varying interpretations.

6) Long Term

People continuously share and pass on culture from one generation to the next, making it enduring and perpetual. The environment around us experiences fluctuations, but individuals categorized as traditionalists persist unchanged and resistant.

7) Growing

Culture depends on various circumstances which have occurred centuries or millenniums back. With each passing generation, culture gains a value or two that is then bequeathed to the following generation. Thus, culture continuously broadens with time as new ideologies are added to it and they become an important part of the culture.

8) Dynamic

Though culture passes on to generations, still it is not stationary and resistant to change. Culture keeps on changing with time and moulds itself to new circumstances, knowledge and experiences.

Characteristics of organisational culture

Elements of Organisational Culture

The following are the elements of organisational culture: 

1) Artifacts

Artefacts are physical items that embody the essence of a culture. They contain symbolic characteristics. They act as reminders and triggers such as the company’s first product, awards gained in challenging competition, etc.

2) Stories, Histories, Myths, Legends and Jokes

Culture finds its way through stories, whether intentionally taught or subtly shared through humorous experiences.

3) Rituals, Rights, Ceremonies and Celebrations

Rituals are those procedures or sets of affairs that are repetitive and have a particular meaning. They are repeated on particular occasions. They might be linked with an organisational event such as the launching of a new product.

4) Heroes

Within a culture, heroes are individuals who symbolize ideals and serve as role models. They teach the employees how to behave honestly and ideally.

5) Symbols and Symbolic Actions

They are similar to artefacts. They remind people about the norms and beliefs related to the culture. Symbols in an organisation can vary from images of its products on the walls to handshakes between different members across the globe. They also tell about the cultures and beliefs of the organisation.

6) Beliefs, Assumptions and Mental Models

An organization and its culture have common beliefs and ideas regarding the world which helps in free flow and agreeable communication. It has a drawback in that at times it acts as a fatal shield that stops people from viewing the upcoming hazards.

7) Attitudes

Attitudes are the external demonstrations of inherent thoughts that people display while interacting with other members of the same culture. 

8) Rules, Norms, Ethical Codes, and Values

Norms and values of a culture encompass the strict codes of conduct that individuals must adhere to, fearing rejection if not followed. These rules, norms, values, and codes find a strong presence within artefacts, stories, symbols, attitudes, etc.

Types of Organisational Culture 

The following types of cultures are present in an organisation:

  1. Mechanistic and Organic Culture
  2. Authoritarian and Participative Culture
  3. Strong, Weak, and Unhealthy Culture
  4. Dominant and Sub-Culture

1) Mechanistic and Organic Culture

Mechanistic organisational culture displays values of governance and feudalism. In this kind of culture, working in an organization is based on narrow specialisation and people view their careers within those specific areas only. Authority believes in following a downward flow direction and communication flow through specified channels. 

Strong department loyalty and inter-department rivalry can be seen among the employees. It is also named the ‘we’ versus ‘the’ concept. This kind of culture does not promote change and development.

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Organic culture is opposite to the Here, all the rules and regulations followed by the mechanistic culture are absent. It puts great stress on the accomplishment of work, and teamwork and gives freedom to communicate. When troubleshooting is needed, the person who specialises in the area of the problem exercises more authority than the employer.

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2) Authoritarian and Participative Culture 

In authoritarian culture, authority lies with the leader only and the emphasis is that subordinates should obey his orders and maintain discipline. If this does not happen, the culprit is punished to set an example for others. It is believed that the leader knows what is best for the organization and thus acts accordingly.

The participative culture believes in the fact that people are generally ready to accept these decisions that are made with their consent rather than those that are forced on them. Further, when a problem is solved in a group better decisions can be made as numerous innovative ideas occur and are shared between people. Participative culture is found in organisations where most of the employees are intellectually and professionally equal and find rules for every individual

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3) Strong, Weak and Unhealthy Cultures 

A strong culture has a positive impact on the employee in lower turnover rate reduced absenteeism, enhanced bonding and positive behaviour This is because employees strongly believe in the organisation Thus, there is a high degree of behavioural control in the organisational culture.

Weak culture consists of several sub-cultures having few common values, behavioural norms and holy customs. In such organisations, there is no unity among the employees and the top management also does not share any work- culture with the subordinates.

Apart from this, some organisations have an unhealthy culture. In these organisations, there is an internal political environment that permits managers to practice dominance and oppose changes that are necessary to the organisation. 

In politically dominated organisations many problems are solved by strong verbal backing or opposition by strong executives. Individual lobbying by key executives and alliances between departments with common benefits also help in resolving various issues. Thus, the organisation’s well-being loses its priority.

4) Dominant and Sub-Culture 

Dominant culture means the central values which are acceptable by most of the employees. It is the macro-cultural outlook that displays an organisation’s traits.

Sub-culture is present in departments, divisions and geographical areas and reveals the basic issues and experiences of employees who belong to that area. It may contain the basic values of the dominant culture and those values which are unique to a particular department or area.

Dominant Culture

A dominant culture is that such culture that is most powerful, widespread, or influential within a social or political entity in which multiple cultures are present. Dominance can be achieved through many different means, including economic power force or the threat of force, or through more subtle processes of subordination and dominance. The culture that is dominant within a particular geopolitical region can change over time in response to internal or external factors, but one is usually very resilient and able to reproduce itself effectively from generation to generation.

Economic power often determines which culture is dominant in a given region. On the one hand, the wealthy have a great deal of power in most societies, and their cultural values are backed by that power and wealth. The views of a billionaire opera fan carry more weight than those of a sincere and gifted, but desperately poor, punk musician.

One school of thought, championed by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, contends that this dominance of elite culture usually becomes more intensely ingrained than simple finance could explain. He argues that elite culture gradually comes to be seen as superior by both the elite and ordinary people. 

Those born into the elite, therefore, have an easier time remaining powerful and wealthy, as they have an innate understanding of the cultural practices that everyone in society associates with being wealthy and powerful.

Modem societies are very complicated and often produce rebellious cultures that protest against a dominant one. Subcultures, attempt to challenge the established society. Sociologists greatly agree that these challenges are usually doomed to fail, although in some cases, subcultures carve out niches for themselves. In other cases, the dominant culture absorbs some of its habits or ideas, but rarely do subcultures move up to become dominant in a society.

Strong Culture versus Weak Culture

Organisational culture can be labelled as strong or weak based on the level of sharing of the core values among organisational members and the degree of commitment the members have to these core values. 

The higher the level of sharing and commitment, the stronger the culture increases the possibility of behaviour consistency amongst its members, while, a weak culture opens avenues for each one of the members to show concerns special to themselves. 

The difference between strong and weak cultures is shown in the table.

Strong Culture and Weak Culture

In today’s fast-paced and dynamic business environment, the importance of continuous employee learning cannot be overstated. Organizations need to foster a culture of professional development and provide suitable opportunities to their workforce to enhance their skills and knowledge.

Investing in employee learning not only benefits the employees themselves but also yields significant advantages for the company as a whole. By providing employees with the necessary tools and resources to expand their expertise, organizations can enhance their productivity, boost employee morale, and ultimately drive business growth.

Employee Learning of Culture

 Employees can learn organisational culture in the following ways:

1) Stories

Every organisation has their own success stories that are passed on to the new employees. These provide distinctiveness to the organization whether it is the family or the corporate house for which an individual works. The generation adapts these stories from the previous generation and hence becomes aware of organisational culture.

2) Rituals

Rituals are repeated actions that are not very crucial for an organisation’s goals but are still a very essential part of an organisation’s existence as they clearly state the areas of importance. For example, programmes for awarding employees, annual dinners for employees, etc.

3) Material Symbols

Material symbols or ranks are associated with every designation in the organisational hierarchy. These symbols depict the organisational culture.

For example, the facilities like vast parking spaces, large work areas, decoration, etc., and other benefits that are enjoyed by an individual according to the designation in the organization depict the culture of an organisation. It can be an open door, the informal culture of typical bureaucratic culture or multi-layered or status-oriented culture.

4) Language

In many organisations, the employees and other sub-groups prefer using their typical official language, which mostly includes professional jargon. Management people can be easily recognised by their language. In an organisation people may like to greet each other when they pass or may prefer to ignore others, i.e., the code language used by members of the same groups demonstrates the kind of culture that prevails in that organisation.

Role of Culture in an Organisation

Organizational culture is very important in binding the employees together to attain organisational effectiveness. Following are the different functional roles played by culture in an organisation: 

Role of Culture in an Organisation

1) Acts as Talent Attractor

For a prospective employee, organisational culture is an important factor to be considered before joining any organisation. Hence, it has become very difficult to find talented employees and those who are available have become very selective in their choice. They demand something more than higher packages, perks and incentives. They desire an environment where they can feel comfortable and become successful. In such a situation, a good organisational culture helps draw excellent and promising employees.

2) Engages People

Organisational culture allows employees to be involved in their work. This results in greater productivity and hence increases the profitability of the organisation.

3) Creates Greater Synergy

A strong culture makes. It gives people a chance to come together and interact with others in a better manner thus, leading to new relationships. These relationships will facilitate the development of new and more creative ideas and hence increase synergy in employees’ work which in turn enhances productivity. It is rightly believed that 1+1+right culture is more than 10. 

4) Makes Everyone More Successful

Every individual can become successful by investing proper time, and talent and focusing on the culture of the organisation. A good culture is not only beneficial for employees but also builds good business thinking.

5) Acts as a Control System

Culture affects employees’ decision making and attitude. It is a control system, which unconsciously influences an individual’s thought process Employers assume that it is an automatic driving force that guides employees to act by the organisation’s outlook.

6) Operates as a Social Bond

Organisational culture acts as a “social bond”, which connects all the employees and they consider themselves as a part of the organisation. Employees crave social identity and due to this, they are provoked to internalise the organisation’s prevailing culture. 

7) Helps in Logical Thinking

Organisational culture helps employees to understand the happenings within an organisation. It also helps them to determine what others expect from them and motivates them to communicate with other employees who know the culture in a better way and also believe in it.

Barriers to Organisational Culture

 The following are the barriers to organisational culture:

1) Culture Limits Organisations to Change as per Environmental Demands

The current environment in which organisations are working is rapidly changing but culture restricts the organisation from acting as per the demands of the changing environment.

2) Culture Demands New Employees Confirm its Values

When a new employee joins an organisation he brings with him a different culture. Rather than accepting good characteristics of his culture, the organisation demands the new entrant to accept and adapt to prevailing values and culture.

3) Breakage of Various Business Alliances

Today, many business associations like mergers, and acquisitions are proceeding towards the splining stage due to the strong cultures of the parties.

Thus, culture has both merits and demerits. Cultures should be flexible to maximise the merits and reduce the demerits. Culture needs to be changed with time so that the organisation can also change as per the changing environment. Thus, culture must act as a catalyst to adopt the change.

Creating Customer Responsive Culture

A customer-responsive culture is one where employees are friendly and courteous, accessible, knowledgeable, prompt in responding to customer needs and willing to do what’s necessary to please the customer, Customer responsive cultures hire service-oriented employees with good listening skills and the willingness to go beyond the constraints of their job descriptions to do what is necessary to please the customer. It then clarifies their roles, frees them up to meet changing customer needs by minimising rules and regulations, and provides them with a wide range of decision discretion to do their jobs as they see fit.

For example, McDonald’s is the No. 1 fast food because of the systems or cultures that are prevalent in each outlet and its customer-oriented service. A customer-responsive culture is a path to customer loyalty and long-term profitability. Companies that have created such cultures as Southwest Airlines, FedEx, Johnson & Johnson, Nordstrom, Jet Airways and Shopper’s Stop in India – have built a strong and loyal customer base and have normally outperformed their competitors in financial performance and revenue growth.

Six key variables are important for creating customer-responsive cultures: 

1) Type of Employee: First is the type of employees themselves. Successful, service-oriented organisations hire employees who are friendly and outgoing. 

2) Low Formalisation: The second is low formalisation. Service employees need to have the liberty to meet varying customer service requirements.

3) Empowerment: Empowered employees have the decision discretion to do what is necessary to please the customer.

4) Good Listening Skills: Employees in customer-responsive cultures can listen to and understand messages sent by the customer.

5) Role Clarity: Service employees act as boundary spanners between the organisation and its customers. They have to agree to the demands of both their employer and the customer. 

6) Organisational Citizenship Behaviour: Finally, customer-responsive cultures have employees who exhibit organisational citizenship behaviour. They are moral in their desire to please the customer.


Employee learning is a vital component of the success of every organization. By prioritizing professional development, organizations can empower their workforce, drive innovation, and stay ahead in today’s competitive business world. By fostering a culture of continuous learning and providing comprehensive training programs, organizations can unlock the full potential of their employees and achieve sustainable growth.

To ensure the success of employee learning initiatives, it is essential for organizations to regularly evaluate the effectiveness of their programs. It can be done by gathering feedback from participants, monitoring learning outcomes, and making necessary adjustments, organizations can continuously improve the quality and relevance of their training offerings.

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