The Creative Interchange Process and Organizational Culture – PART I

Although we begin ‘with the end in mind’, we do need first to define what we mean by Organizational Culture before exploring the link with the Creative Interchange Process.

The definitions of Organizational Culture

If you want to provoke a vigorous debate, start a conversation on organizational culture. While there is universal agreement that (1) it exists, and (2) that it plays a crucial role in shaping behavior in organizations, there is little consensus on what organizational culture actually is, never mind how it influences behavior and whether it is something leaders can change.

This is a problem, because without a reasonable definition (or definitions) of culture, we cannot hope to understand its connections to other key elements of the organization, such as structure and leadership. Nor can we develop good approaches to analyzing, preserving and transforming cultures. If we can define what organizational culture is, it gives us a handle on how to diagnose problems and even to design and develop better cultures.

In our work, and thus in these series of blogs, we use the following definitions:

“We are what we repeatedly do.” Aristotle

Culture is consistent, observable patterns of behavior in organizations.  This view elevates repeated behavior or habits as the core of culture and deemphasizes what people feel, think or believe. It also focuses our attention on the forces that shape behavior in organizations, and so highlights an important question: are all those forces (including structure, processes, and incentives) “culture” or is culture simply the behavioral outputs? Therefore we add:

“Organizational culture defines a jointly shared description of an organization from within.” 

Culture is a process of “sense-making” in organizations. Sense-making has been defined as “a collaborative process of creating shared awareness and understanding out of different individuals’ perspectives and varied interests.” Note that this moves the definition of culture beyond patterns of behavior into the realm of jointly-held beliefs and interpretations about “what is.” It says that a crucial purpose of culture is to help orient its members to “reality” in ways that provide a basis for alignment of purpose and shared action. Please note too that this definition uses the left side of our Crucial Dialogue Model.

“Organizational culture is the sum of values and rituals which serve as ‘glue’ to integrate the members of the organization.”

Culture is a carrier of meaning. Cultures provide not only a shared view of “what is” but also of “why is.” In this view, culture is about “the story” in which people in the organization are embedded, and the values and rituals that reinforce that narrative. It also focuses attention on the importance of symbols and the need to understand them — including the idiosyncratic languages used in organizations — in order to understand culture.

“An organization, a living culture that can adapt to reality as fast as possible”

Finally, cultures are dynamic. They shift, incrementally and constantly, in response to external and internal changes. So, trying to assess organizational culture is complicated by the reality that you are trying to hit a moving target. But it also opens the possibility that culture change can be managed as a continuous process rather than through big shifts (often in response to crises). Likewise, it highlights the idea that a stable “destination” may never — indeed should never — be reached. The culture of the organization should always be learning and developing.

In this first blog I will further introduce and use the Schneider Culture Model based on Schneider’s book “The Reengineering alternative: A plan for making your current culture work”. This model has been chosen because it leads to actionable plans.

What is a culture model? A culture model tells us about the values and norms within a group or company. It identifies what is important as well as how people approach each other end work together.

Schneider Culture Model

The Schneider Culture Model defines four distinct cultures:

  1. Collaboration culture is about working together;
  2. Control culture is about getting and keeping control;
  3. Competence culture is about being the best;
  4. Cultivation culture is about learning and growing with a sense of purpose

The diagram below summarizes the Schneider Culture Model. Each of the four cultures are depicted – one in each quadrant. Each of the four quadrants has:

  • A name;
  • A descriptive “quote” that characterize that quadrant;
  • Some words that characterize that quadrant.

Please take a moment to read through this picture and get a sense of where your organization fits.  Please click on the picture to make it bigger and  remember that Organizational Culture means “How we do things around here to succeed!”


There are also two axis that indicate where the focus of an organization is:

  1. Horizontal: People Oriented (Personal) vs Company Oriented (Impersonal)
  2. Vertical: Reality Oriented (Actuality) vs Possibility Oriented (‘Future’)

This provides a way to see relationships between cultures. For example, Control culture is more compatible with Competence and Collaboration cultures than with Cultivation culture.

“All models are wrong, some are useful” – George Box, statistician

I’ve knonw this truth for years, therefore I developed a Cause and Effect model since I was not content any more with Birds’ Domino Model (which he derived from Heinrichs’) and the MORT (Management Oversight and Risk Tree) Model. Heinrich’s model ‘blamed’ the worker or his education, Bird blamed the Safety Management System and MORT blamed Top Management. My Filter tower model is wrong I know, and it has been very useful to understand the causes of the causes of the causes of Accidents.

Key points about culture

  • Management guru Peter Drucker says “Culture… is singularly persistent… In fact, changing behavior works only if it is based on the existing ‘culture’”;
  • “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast” is another quote most often attributed to Peter Drucker;
  • In the Schneider Model, No one culture type is considered better than another;
  • Depending on the type of work, one type of culture may be a better fit;
  • Schneider suggests that most companies have a single dominant culture with elements from the other three culture quadrants;
  • Departments, groups or even teams within a group may have different sub-cultures (e.g. maintenance vs operations);
  • Differences can lead to conflict.

How to make Culture Work

The starting point for making Culture work is understanding it. The book describes a survey that can be used to evaluate the organization’s culture:  .

There are several suggestions for using cultural information to guide decision making:

  • Evaluate key problems in the context of culture. Sometimes changes are needed to bring the actual culture into alignment with the needed culture (for the transformation who is critical)
  • Sometimes the culture is too extreme, for instance too much collaboration without the necessary competence, and therefore elements from other cultures are needed to bring the organization into balance;
  • Consider the possibility of creating interfaces and connectors to undo the mismatches between departments, groups or teams.



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