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Culture Models compared: normative or descriptive?

Culture Models compared: normative or descriptive?

  • 27 July 2017
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

Culture models: In addition to Barrett Spiral Dynamics, and Human Synergistics, there are other developmental culture theories. Frederic Laloux predicts the fifth stage of organizations with a “Teal” culture, Bruce Schneider with seven levels, and Dave Logan identifies five stages of cultures.

Different approaches

When we compare the Barrett Values to the Competing Values Framework, we see that they are different approaches. Of course, you could map the Barrett Values onto the CVF. At first sight, it seems that Barrett’s lower levels correspond with the bottom stability CVF quadrants of Control and Compete Cultures, with their focus on efficiency and achievements. The transformation and internal cohesion levels with their learning and togetherness resonate more with the flexibility quadrants of Collaborate and Create Cultures.

But could it be possible to have a hierarchically structured government organization (Control Culture) with enlightened people (who don’t equate their ego with their position) and a strong, shared purpose of Service (Barrett level 7)? It may be rare in reality - but theoretically, it could happen.

In the same line of reasoning, you could find a specific Create Culture that turned to its shadow side - bickering over resources, with no alignment of individuals, chaos, and confusion because they are learning and changing so much that they disintegrate. Theoretically, the conceptual Create Culture has advanced conditions according to Barrett’s upper levels - with learning, commitment, development, innovating for future generations, and whatnot. But there are no guarantees.

So, there is no one-on-one similarity between the models. We should keep an open mind and look at what is present in the organization: a typical mix of values, awareness levels and archetypes of culture.

Short and simple

I love Barrett’s work but I don’t use it as a consultant. I decided against the complexity of many levels and too much detail in the results. This may leave people scrutinizing the report and experiencing it as science - with its implications of control and linearity. I prefer to work with the reality in the room - only using broad, simple categories and asking people to customize the theoretical culture concept to their organization. They have to find answers to their own situation.

In my experience, using four categories works better than working with twelve sub-types (Human Synergistics) or seven levels and a wide variety of values (Barrett). I prefer the 2x2 matrix culture models for their simplicity. Participants to culture workshops and Change Circles might find it harder to keep too many values or dimensions in mind. The rule of thumb is that people can easily remember and thus work on what can be counted on one hand.

Normative or descriptive

Barrett has an evolutionary model that is normative: the higher stages of development are better for the “workers, the workplace, and the world”.The CVF is essentially a descriptive model: it does not prescribe norms for the “best” culture type. What is best, depends on the internal and external situation of a specific organization and cannot be determined from the model. The four culture types are described with different, but positive features - even though there might be negative expressions of each culture in reality. This happens when there is too much of a feature and its shadow side appears.

The four culture types are no development stages of organizations. However, many organizations tend to evolve from Create to Collaborate to Control to Compete, using the whole CVF because to grow and be successful they need all these qualities. This requires both/and thinking and managing tensions and opposites.

Many “mature” organizations end up in the stability quadrants of the CVF. When they have grown large, it’s logical to work according to a dominant Control and/or Compete Culture. They are too big to “indulge” in the freedom, learning, change, and creativity of the Create Culture from their pioneering phase. Nor is it easy to revert to good-old people-oriented Collaborate Culture and let everyone participate in all decisions and be flexible as long as they are supportive co-workers. There are systems and structures in place, procedures to follow, resources to be managed.

So, if Control and Compete Cultures are a sign of maturity and past achievements and success - are they the most developed and best culture types? Not quite. Both my experience and research suggest that the Create and Collaborate Cultures where many organizations begin - might be the most rewarding for both people are performance… By the way, Control and Compete Cultures are no guarantee for future success either. Nothing can fail as well as success. If these culture types have become too strong, dominant, and rigid - too well settled in their Stability quadrant roots - they are a liability if you cannot loosen them when change comes knocking at your door.

In this blog series, I compare other culture models to the Competing Values Framework. Feel free to let me know what you think!

Do you want to know how your organization scores on the Competing Values Framework? Do the free individual OCAI trial here. Or check out the paid Pro and Enterprise assessments for teams and organizations.

© Marcella Bremer 2017. All rights reserved.