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Organizational culture: Create, Collaborate, Control, and Compete

  • 29 September 2016
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

When you’d like an organizational change to succeed it’s a good idea to start where people are: current culture, as discussed in my last blog post. To quickly map current and desired culture I use the validated Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI), developed by professors Kim Cameron & Robert Quinn at the University of Michigan.

The OCAI distinguishes four “archetypes” of culture and is based on the Competing Values Framework (CVF). The CVF is one of the 40 most important frameworks used in business (ten Have, 2003) and tested for over 30 years in organizations. The CVF emerged from research on the factors that account for highly effective organizations. It’s the most used framework for assessing organizational culture and organizational dynamics.

Four drivers of human activity

I like that sound scientific basis but what I appreciate even more is its practical applicability. The CVF and OCAI help you see quickly what people value and emphasize when they organize activities, whether they are in a for-profit organization, a sports club, local community, or a family. The CVF identifies the underlying dimensions of organization that exist in almost all human and organizational activity.

It aligns with four biological determined drives in the brain: the need to bond, to learn, to acquire and to defend. (Paul Lawrence, Nitin Nohria, 2002). The CVF and OCAI can also be related to the “Big Five” personality traits and MBTI and the four psychological types discovered by Carl Gustav Jung. The eight leadership roles that Robert Quinn defines also correspond with these four/five traits. You can read my earlier post on the OCAI and personality types here.

Four culture types

The OCAI distinguishes four culture types:

  1. the dynamic, entrepreneurial Adhocracy Culture,
  2. the people-oriented, friendly Clan Culture,
  3. the process-oriented, structured Hierarchy Culture and
  4. the results-oriented, competitive Market Culture.

Their alternative, easy-to-remember names are Create, Collaborate, Control, and Compete Cultures. Below is a quick overview of each culture type’s focus and features. Reading their characteristics you may recognize what your current group’s focus is, whether it’s your team at work, or your class in college, your sports club, your church or professional association, and so on. The source literature is the book Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture, by Cameron & Quinn and the book Competing Values Leadership by Cameron, Quinn, DeGraff, Thakor. Read these books if you want an in-depth description of organizational culture and change.

If you want to know more about culture read my eBook: How to lead Positive Change with Culture and Positive Leadership. This eBook shows how organizational change can succeed when you engage with culture - and how to work with the culture types below.

Create Culture (Adhocracy Culture)

  • create, innovate, envision the future
  • handle discontinuity, change, and risk
  • freedom of thought and action, rule-breaking
  • thoughtful experimentation, learning from mistakes, failing fast
  • roles like entrepreneurs and visionaries
  • visionaries inclined toward risk, not afraid of uncertainty

Collaborate Culture (Clan Culture)

  • build teams, do things together
  • commitment, empowerment
  • human development
  • cohesion, engagement
  • collective wisdom, long-lasting partnerships, and relationships
  • roles like a mentor and a coach
  • wary of conflict

Control Culture (Hierarchy Culture)

  • better, cheaper, surer
  • eliminate errors
  • increase consistency and reliability
  • better processes and efficiency
  • routines
  • roles like organizers and administrators
  • attention to details, careful decisions, precise analyses
  • conservative, cautious, logical problem solvers
  • technical experts that are well-informed

Compete Culture (Market Culture)

  • compete, move fast, play to win
  • monitor signals from the market and customers
  • deliver shareholder value
  • speed: results-right-now
  • getting things done, achieving goals
  • acquiring other firms, outsourcing selected processes,
  • investing in customer satisfaction, attacking the market position of competitors
  • delivering results, making fast decisions, driving through barriers to achieve results
  • leaders are hard-driving, directive, commanding, demanding

What do you think? Can you categorize the group you have in mind?

Competing Values in different settings

I can see these basics of culture in many groups and it helps me understand where they are and why things (don’t) happen. My Friday night classic choir is a bit torn between Collaborate and Compete: some singers prefer the friendly people orientation and the fun when we have drinks after the rehearsal. Others value the results orientation of the Compete culture and want to focus more on building our repertory faster to excel at the next concert.

The same goes for my son’s soccer team. Some parents go for the Compete culture and would like to kick out those kids who don’t perform well enough, while others emphasize the joy of playing together and developing the boys’ skills and want to keep the team intact during the competition season. Recognizing their different emphasis in values, people can start to understand each other and try to bridge their differences to agree on a typical culture that works for all.

OCAI Culture Profile

The choir chose a mix of fun and achievement and defined how to maintain that by setting requirements for choir rehearsal attendance, criteria for progress and repertory, and determining the frequency of performances. The soccer team is currently still undecided, but the most assertive compete-parents seem to win the battle, causing the collaborate-and-develop parents to withdraw their children…

Developing culture over time

The good news is that culture is not carved in stone, even though it’s a conservative influence that likes to preserve the way we do things around here. Being aware of current culture, you can start to guide people to a different culture type, step by step, instead of pushing them too fast. Next, you may see your culture change and develop and sustain positive change.

Apple provides a great example of how organizations evolve - including their dominant culture. Apple went through the four culture types, starting in Create with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. After a few successful years, they created the Macintosh team to further develop the Mac and became a Collaborate culture. Their success led them to grow fast and more Control culture was needed. Steve Jobs was kicked out, and John Scully from PepsiCo was hired. Then Apple matured and got stuck in Compete Culture, and Steve Jobs came back to light the spark of Create Culture again.

If you want to see your current culture you can try the validated Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument:  either use the free OCAI One or a Pro or Enterprise assessment for teams and organizations. 

In my next post, let’s see how we can engage people to change.

To get back to my question: in which culture type you would categorize your current workplace or college? Please share your observations below.

Copyright © Marcella Bremer 2016. All rights reserved.

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