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Practicing Organization Development: Leading Transformation and Change, 4th Edition by Roland L. Sullivan, Jacqueline M. Stavros, William J. Rothwell

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Chapter FourteenTaking Culture Seriously in Organization Development

Edgar Schein

What Is Culture and How Does It Work?

The simplest way of thinking about culture is to liken it to personality and character in the individual. As we grow up, we learn certain ways of behaving and have certain beliefs and values that enable us to adapt to the external realities that face us and give us some sense of identity and integration. As groups and organizations grow, they undergo the same kind of learning process. The initial beliefs and values of the group's founders and leaders gradually become shared and taken for granted if (1) the group is successful in fulfilling its mission or primary task and (2) if it learns how to manage itself internally. The group's culture consists of its accumulated learning, and if the group builds up a history, the beliefs, values, and norms by which it has operated gradually become taken for granted and can be thought of as shared assumptions that become tacit and nonnegotiable.

However, as organizations grow and age, they also develop subunits in which the learning process described above occurs as well, since they have different tasks and issues of internal integration. Therefore, an organization will eventually develop both an overarching culture and subcultures that will vary in strength and degree of congruence with the total organization culture.

The strength of a given culture or subculture depends on several factors:

  • The strength of the convictions ...

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