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Role of culture in achieving Organizational Integrity, and managing conflicts between cultures 29 April 01


Culture Defined. Culture is, simply put, the "way we do things around here." Culture is a bundle of assumptions about the way the world works, beliefs, values, symbols, languages, rituals, principles, rules, and practices that consciously or unconsciously drives the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the organization and its stakeholders. more

Cultures have a history and a structure, and thus can remain "the same" over a substantial period of time despite the comings and goings of any or even all individuals within it. They are born of experience in dealing with pressures both external and internal to the organization. More

Culture is an integral part of the process of making individual choices. It influences what the organization senses, cares about, and is capable of dealing with.

For example, an important aspect of culture is whether an employee or society is predominantly self-focused or group-focused. Another aspect of culture is the acceptability of differences in power between individuals of a group. Putting the two aspects together creates a matrix that demonstrates the richness of cultural influence: more

  • Self-focus, low power differential. One answers to personal standards and questions existing authority (Anglo-American).
  • Self focus, high power differential. One answers to personal standards, but follows a sense of duty (French, German, South African).
  • Group-focus, low power differential. One considers the group, but rejects authority (Russian, Swedish, Chinese).
  • Group focus, high power differential. One considers the group and follows a strong sense of duty (Mexican, Subcontinent, Japanese, Saudi Arabian).

These cultural influences complicate policy and styles of management from practices such as quality circles to pay-for-performance reward systems. Culture is even more important in how the organization deals with the world around it, where many more cultures among its affected stakeholders may dictate that it "think globally, but act locally."

Culture and Organizational Complexity. A complex system is composed of parts that differ in structure or function from one another, which communicate and enhance one another's goals. Organizations are complex systems. They have a multitude of tasks that need to be done, people with different capabilities to accomplish them, formal structures and systems to support harmonize conflict and mobilize energy, and myriad cultures and subcultures within them and their broader communities.

The differences between cultures influencing an organization may be tribal, regional, national, or international in origin; they may be subtle or glaring. The challenge for an organization is to celebrate the diversity of cultures, but find enough commonality to encourage them to communicate and enhance each other's goals.

Culture is a source of conflict. When individual or organizational  "ways of doing things here" conflict, the people involved or affected will not see the same issues, care as much about them, or be as capable of dealing with them. Leadership must intervene to resolve these conflicts.

A Systems View of Change, Culture, Compassion, Conflict and Choice. An organization is essentially an open system that receives input, processes it, generates output, and is changed through feedback loops from the process itself and the output. For the organization to be successful, its components must be congruent "or "fit."

The dynamics of organizational culture as an integral part of the process of compassion, conflict, and choice can be captured in a general systems model. These components and relationships are displayed in the general systems model dEPICted below.

Input takes the form of pressures from the environment, resources available, and the history of the organization.

  • Environmental pressures are categorized as threats, opportunities, demands, constraints and chance. Pressures are virtually infinite.
  • Resources available include human beings, materials, information, capital, organizational capability, and time. Resources are always limited.
  • The history of the organization includes significant events, key people, responses to previous crises, and core values. History expands and contracts both the environmental pressures and the resources available.

The situation demanding a choice-or generating compassion or conflict-becomes apparent to the organization through the input filter of the changing thoughts, feelings, and actions of all those involved, knowledgeable or affected. The organization deals with this change through a transformational process and makes choices or resolves conflicts to achieve organizational aspirations.

Output takes the form of objectives, actual results, and desirable results. Foremost of the organizational objectives, and perhaps the least obvious, is the nature of the organization itself, i.e., who it is, its "being." More obvious are organizational performance objectives. Less obvious than either being or performance objectives is that the organization should have position objectives and learning objectives as well.
Position objectives answer the questions, Once the organization has achieved its performance objectives, where does it want to be? What does it want to be able to accomplish next?

Learning objectives answer the questions, What will we learn as we go through the process? How will we have increased our organizational capability? What new things will we be able to do when we are through?

Finally, the transformational process itself changes the organization's situation, and the output changes both the process and the situation. Feedback loops represent the impact of the transformation process and output on the organization itself and its environment. Assessment of organizational success is less a matter of determining whether desired objectives were achieved than determining whether desirable results occurred. More


Culture and Its Influence on Process. Culture's influence is pervasive. As the relationship between the four components of the transformation process demonstrate, consciousness, culture, capability/capacity, and caring lead to either choice or conflict.

Consciousness-Before an organization can begin any process to deal with change, it must be conscious (aware) of the thoughts, feelings, or actions that represent the change in its situation. Situational awareness includes the factors in its environment, resources, or history that have led to the situation. Culture significantly influences what one is aware of.

Caring-For a choice to be made (or for there to be an actual conflict), someone in the organization must care. "To care," in this sense, means to be sensitive to the situation and willing to give the attention required to understand a need for action: to "care about," though not necessarily to "care for." It is not enough to be aware that a change might require action. If no one actually cares, a situation will be lost among the pressures and distractions that characterize organizational life.

Caring in an organization is an attitude of mutual affection and obligation, which represents the unity and health of the organization. Culture significantly influences what one cares about and cares for.

Capability and capacity-Capability is the skill, knowledge, understanding and attitudes that permit individual judgment and action. Capacity is the structures and systems necessary to support individuals in the exercise of their capabilities.

Without the capability and capacity to be conscious and to care, the situation may pass without attention. Without the capability to imagine and the capacity for action, the organization may be aware of the situation and care, but be unable to create opportunities to act.

Compassion/conflict/choice-Where the organization is conscious of a change, cares about it, and has the capability and capacity to deal with it, three output filters lead to desired output. Compassion may be felt, conflict may arise, or a choice may be made.

Compassion is perhaps the most socially important feeling. It may or may not be felt in any given situation, compassion is the bridge between "caring about" and the performance output of "caring for."

One turns to ethics for guidance in answering the questions, what is right, and what is good? However, there is no single universal formula for making such a decision. Sometimes the choice made will be to do nothing.

Other times, conflicts in vision, perception of reality, or expectations will arise that the organization must acknowledge or resolve. In any event, where the conditions are present for choice or conflict, they will affect the nature and goals and objectives of the organization. More

Conflict Resolution and Learning & Growth. Conflict arises when there are differing visions of where the organization should go and how it should go there. Conflict also arises when there are differing understandings of where the organization is and how it got there. More often, conflict arises where visions and views of reality are harmonious, but there are differing expectations as to the possibilities of human action.

Culture drives how conflict is regarded and managed. A key characteristic of conflict styles is whether the individuals involved are able to separate issues from the people themselves. In high-context cultures, issues are seen to be more concrete than in low-context cultures. As a result, it is more difficult to separate the people from the issue.

The source of authority is also an important factor. Self-focus, high-power differential cultures (e.g., France and Germany) will look to a central authority to resolve conflict. Self-focus, low power-differential cultures (e.g., Anglo-American) will look to personal networks or mediation to resolve conflict.

In some cultures, conflict is to be avoided (e.g., Japanese, Korean). In others, conflict is actively sought (e.g., Anglo-American). In our view, conflict should be regarded as an invaluable opportunity to learn and grow. Conflict of visions, views of reality, and expectations should be expected-and valued. It is perhaps the most valuable information in organizational life. This is the case, however resolving a specific conflict is pursued.

Where it exists, leadership must organize so that it can harmonize conflict and mobilize the will and intellect to achieve organizational aspirations. Leadership must intervene with as little interference as possible. So, approaches to conflict resolution should be more in the nature of mediation, in which the conflict is resolved by the parties with whatever facilitation may be appropriate, than arbitration or litigation. Ethics should be constructive, building on what works well toward where the organization wants to go.

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