Defining Culture

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Topics: Culture
Defining “Culture” and “Organizational Culture”: From Anthropology to the Office
Bruce M. Tharp

ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE WHITE PAPER

04.09

ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE WHITE PAPER

Defining “Culture” and “Organizational Culture”:
From Anthropology to the Office
The topic of organizational culture is increasingly understood as a company asset that can be used to increase business performance. While important, organizational culture is a slippery concept to concretely define. This paper deals with the historical development and foundational understandings of both the term culture, from anthropology, and its appropriation by industrial organization researchers to organizational culture. A foundational definition by Edgar Schein of MIT’s Sloan School of Management is arrived at as well as the notion that culture can be observed at three levels of the organization: artifacts, espoused values, and basic assumptions.
Contents: • Anthropological Origins of “Culture” • Understanding Culture • Origins of “Organizational Culture” • Understanding Organizational Culture

Usually the domain of top executives and uppermanagement, for most within an organization its culture remains implicit — often with only its effects and implications discussed. Despite this, as decades of research suggest, an explicit, integrated, accepted, and consistent organizational culture seems important in achieving long-term health and other performance successes. Yet, as in most arenas of social science where the intricate webs of various and varying human influences exist, distinct and conclusive causal links are difficult to establish. Keeping this in mind, it is still very likely that the richness and dynamism of organizational activity—the life of an organization— may be seen, and therefore shaped and improved, through the lens of culture. ANTHROPOLOGICAL ORIGINS OF “CULTURE” What exactly is culture? Unfortunately a fixed, universal understanding does not exist; there is little consensus

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