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What goes wrong in your organizational culture?

What goes wrong in your organizational culture?

  • 09 March 2017
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

The Competing Values Framework, developed by Cameron and Quinn, is a very insightful culture model. In essence, it is a descriptive model. It is not normative - prescribing wich culture type is best. That depends entirely on your organization's situation. All four archetypes of culture have their merits - and they are described with neutral or positive characteristics. You can find more details about these culture types.

Shadow Sides of Archetypes

These descriptions of the four archetypes of culture represent their “healthy version”. But as yin and yang indicate: when there is too much of a characteristic it could turn into its opposite. In reality, we see many practices in organizations that are unhealthy - even though all organizations can be mapped onto the Competing Values Framework. That happens when they developed an over-the-top-contra-productive, unhealthy version of a value or competency - a “shadow side”. Let's review some possible shadow sides, as this is a question that people often ask me. What could go wrong with each of these culture types?

Too people-oriented

The people orientation of Collaborate Culture that values participation, loyalty, and human development may deteriorate into the shadow side: Keeping it nice and cozy on the surface and never argue. Because they value people, they feel the need to agree all the time. People may be smiling in meetings - but complaining and gossiping in the hallways - leading to us-versus-them and serious fragmentation. Too much friendliness could lead to an eternal Happy Hour without achieving the required results.

Too entrepreneurial

Entrepreneurial Create culture gone over-the-top could lead to endless debates about the best innovation. In a healthy culture, we could "agree to disagree” or search for exceptions, solve problems, and make our new plans reality-proof. But too much change and new ideas in a Create Culture can lead to chaos, wasted resources, irritation, and worse.

Too process-oriented

The process oriented, efficient and well-structured Control Culture may be relying too much on position power, official authority (who’s authorized to sign for this budget? who’s responsible?) and formal job descriptions (this is not my job!). It can lead to hiding in your cubicle and not speaking up or shifting accountability to someone else or trying to divide and conquer. It’s safest to stay mute and fake consent. A too tight Control Culture with a meticulous focus on details and urge for certainty can stifle not only improvements but also prevent a broader look at the big picture. Focusing on doing things the right way - people forget to check if they are still doing the right things: has the market changed?

Too results-oriented

In a results-oriented Compete Culture that gets too competitive and obsessed with winning, it can be dangerous to speak your mind and share information. People want to guard their reputation and they compete to get the best numbers and make their departments look good. Too much Compete Culture can exhaust employees when they have to meet their targets and get things done regardless of the price. A one-sided focus on results can boost short-term success but will eventually lead to a lack of renewal and well-being.

Learn from the other side?

So, every culture practice has its “shadow side”. If your organization developed too much of one characteristic it’s useful to look at the CVF and consider its opposite. What could you learn from “the other side”? How could you suspend judgment and open your mind?

If you’re interested in more details about these tensions and shadow sides check out the book "Competing Values Leadership" by Cameron, Quinn, DeGraff, Thakor and my book "Organizational Culture Change". My book also offers cases and a step-by-step way to use the OCAI and CVF for successful organizational change.

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.

* What are your examples? Can you share a few shadow sides that you see or have seen? I look forward to hearing from you!

© Marcella Bremer 2017. All rights reserved.