Organizational culture is the set of values, beliefs, and standards for acceptable behavior that its members share. Understanding an organization’s culture helps you understand how it functions and how you should do things to fit in. Fit with the culture is one of the top criteria recruiters look for when hiring students. It’s the shared understanding about the identity of an organization. Think of culture as the organization’s personality. Sport team culture adds a special dimension to the idea of organizational culture, because teams form a special bond that is often very strong. With this bond come special ways of behaving or goofing off, a special determination to win, ways of dealing with winning and losing—in short, all the bonding mechanisms are in full display. Add to this mix the fans who closely identify with or idolize a particular team’s culture, image, or personality, and you have many strong forces at play. NCAA Division I and III teams tend to have distinctive cultures.36 Think of “good guy” teams like the Seattle Mariners and “bad guy” teams like the Oakland Raiders.
Successful teams are often associated with having a strong team culture. “Sport team culture originated from the establishment and development of sports teams. The sport team culture with which all members voluntarily comply is the total of common faith, morality, spirit, ceremony, intelligence factor, and entertainment life. The function of the sport team culture is found in instructing people, construction of team standards, recovery, spiritual adjustment, and meeting psychological and social demand.”
The three components of culture are behavior, values and beliefs, and assumptions. Behavior is observable action—what we do and say. Artifacts are the results of our behavior and include written and spoken language, dress, and material objects. Behavior also includes rites, celebrations, ceremonies, heroes, jargon, myths, and stories. When you examine an organization’s culture, you find that rites, corporate myths, jargon, and all the rest play an important part in defining that culture. Managers, particularly founders, have a strong influence on their organization’s culture. The late Tom Yawkey of the Boston Red Sox, the late George Halas of the Chicago Bears, and the late Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders were legends in their own time and are legends still to fellow players, colleagues, and fans alike who relish the tales and anecdotes surrounding these enduring personalities.
Values represent the way we think we ought to behave and identify what we think it takes to be successful. Beliefs can be expressed as if–then statements. (If I do X, then Y will happen.) Values and beliefs are the operating principles that guide decision making and behavior in an organization; they influence ethical or unethical behavior. We observe values and beliefs only indirectly, through the behaviors and decisions they drive. Values and beliefs are often described in an organization’s mission statement, but take care here—sometimes an organization’s talk (its stated values and beliefs) doesn’t match its walk (values and beliefs put into action).
Boston Red Sox Tom Yawkey and his family walked their talk. They believed in giving to charity, and they made sure their team gave both money and personal time to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Before the 2002 baseball season, the Yawkey family sold the Red Sox to John Henry. This new management is carrying forward the Red Sox tradition by helping the Jimmy Fund. Even though Al Davis values his team’s maverick image and goes to great lengths to maintain it, “bad boys” Oakland Raiders also donate substantial time to worthwhile causes in the Oakland area.
Assumptions are deeply ingrained values and beliefs whose truth we never question. Because our assumptions are the very foundation of our belief system, they are patently obvious to us—and we assume to everyone else—so we rarely discuss them. They are the automatic pilots that guide our behavior. Naturally, when our assumptions are challenged, we feel threatened. Question a teammate on why she does things certain ways: If she responds with a statement like “That’s the way it has always been done,” you have probably run into an assumption. Assumptions are often the most stable and enduring part of culture and the most difficult to change. For instance, although the Boston Red Sox team was known for supporting charities, the new owners challenged basic assumptions on how the team treated its fans and the media. Consequently, new owners have embraced both the media and the fans with new events that encourage players to get closer to both groups.However, things don’t always go this smoothly—some of the Red Sox pitchers (who were not scheduled to pitch) were drinking alcohol and eating fried chicken during games in the dugout in the 2011 season.
Organizational cultures range from strong to weak. In organizations with strong cultures, people unconsciously share assumptions and consciously know the organization’s values and beliefs. That is, they agree with the organization’s assumptions, values, and beliefs and behave as expected. In organizations with weak cultures, many employees don’t behave as expected—they don’t share underlying assumptions. They question and challenge the beliefs. When people don’t agree with the generally accepted values and beliefs, they may rebel and fight the culture. This can be destructive or constructive. Culture is both an entrenched phenomenon and a fluid one. Hence cultures resist change, but they also continually adapt to the times.
There is good news and bad news about strong cultures. Strong cultures make communication and cooperation easier and better. Unity is common, and consensus is easier to reach. The downside is potential stagnation and a lack of diverse opinion (no one thinks about alternative ways of doing things). The continually changing business environment requires that assumptions, values, and beliefs be questioned occasionally and changed when they no longer adequately address the needs of the marketplace.
Successful organizations realize that managing culture is not a program with a starting and ending date. It is an ongoing endeavor called organizational development (OD). You will learn about OD later in this chapter.
A change in culture is a people change. To be effective, changes in culture have to occur in all three components (people’s behavior, values and beliefs, and assumptions). A culture of success allows for change, and businesses that fail to move with the times lose their competitive advantage.
Culture is an important consideration when companies merge or acquire a business. A mismatch in cultures often leads to failed mergers and acquisitions. When larger businesses acquire smaller companies, they often try to bring the smaller company’s culture into alignment with their own culture, usually without much success. When developing or changing culture, remember that what you as a manager say doesn’t count as much as what you measure, reward, and control—these three actions are powerhouses in influencing behavior. For example, managers who say that ethics are important but fiddle in a suspicious way with their financial statements have a hard time establishing a trust climate.