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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Organizational Culture

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Many different organizations and companies have many distinct cultures and climates. However, before one can begin to describe the culture or climate of an organization we must first know what culture and climate is. So, what is Culture? Edgar Schein defines organizational culture as “a pattern of basic assumptions-invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration-that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.” (Miller ) To summarize a culture is simply everything that makes the organization exist. The people, the furniture, the building, the paper, the way people talk anything you can see or hear, shapes the culture of an organization. Furthermore, there are certain key elements that are present in most cultures. These elements are relevant constructs (people/ideas important to an org), practices/procedures, a vocabulary, metaphors (other names for the business), stories or legends, rites and rituals (i.e. graduation), values, heroes, and finally sub-cultures.


If I were to describe the culture of Marist College, I would begin by describing what I see and experience. Take one look at the Marist campus and you will see a unique learning environment. A tree lined campus dotted with new looking buildings over looking the Hudson River. In the middle of the campus, you see a modest round building with a large cross sprawling up the side, towering 10 feet over the top and embracing what seems to be the entire front of the building. Immediately one is under the impression that the campus embraces the catholic religion. Just beyond the church, you will see a brand new 4 floor modern library. The library is filled with brand new IBM computer workstations and shelf after shelf of books. Look in almost any of the buildings on campus and chances are you wont find and garbage, this is because the college pays for extensive “house cleaning” through out the campus. Another observation that can be made is the astonishing amount of computers on campus. Finally, one will notice the ethnicity of the students and faculty on campus. It is clear that the overwhelming majority on campus is Caucasian. If you were to look hard enough you might be able to find a few African Americans, or Hispanic students. The overall climate at Marist is a relaxed one. In general, the students and faculty appear to be in no hurry to get anywhere. The students and employees alike are seemingly friendly and egger to help a person in need. There are security patrols through out the campus to help ensure the safety of the students. I feel that Marist College in general makes a valiant effort to put on display those things they want others to feel are important to the College as a whole.


An important aspect of organizational culture is Schein’s model of culture levels and their interactions within an organization. Schein divides different elements of culture into three levels. The first level is artifacts and creations. Artifacts and creations can be defined as anything visible or audible within an organization. The second level is titled values. Values are defined as those things that the organization states it hold dear to itself. The third and final level consists of basic assumptions. Basic assumptions are conclusions that can be drawn by comparing the artifacts and creations with the stated values of the organization. Just one question, what happens when an organization says it holds a value important and it really does not? There is a name for that phenomenon; we call it an espoused value. Espoused values are something Marist College has many of. Lets analyze one specific aspect of Marist College and apply Schein’s model of organizational culture. Let begin with diversity, once again it is clear when you look around Marist College that there is little to no diversity amongst the student body or faculty. However, the mission statement of Marist College clearly states “The College aims to expose students to cultures other than their own and to the values that link and transcend particular cultures.” Here we have an artifact, the lack of minorities on campus. We have a value, the mission statement. And we can make an assumption the assumption would be that Marist College values diversity and the exposure to other cultures. We can clearly see that this is an espoused value because the values and artifacts contradict each other. However, if Marist College was to be broken down in to many smaller pieces and each piece were to be analyzed one would realize that there are many different sub-cultures within the overall culture of Marist College. For instance if one were to walk into the Gymnasium you will see many people running, jumping, and participating in many different sports. In contrast, if you were to walk out if the gym and walk into the pool house you wont see anyone running. Yes it is because it is dangerous to run near the pool, but this is what sets the two rooms apart, this is what contributes to the different cultures within the one school we call Marist College. Similarly if a communication class were observed you would see many different people interacting and talking amongst themselves, perhaps with the teacher playing an equal role. On the other hand, if you were to observe a Mathematics class you will most likely see a teacher standing in front of an organized classroom with nobody except the professor talking. The students will most likely only speak when spoken to or after being called on by the professor. And, chances are there will be no discussion between the students.


In conclusion, we now have a clear understanding of culture and climate Within Marist College. We understand the functions of culture here on the campus. In addition, we know that not all values here on campus are held by everyone, different people have different values. It is important to point out a few key aspects of culture and values. First, organizations do not have values, individuals do. Second, individuals may say they hold a particular value but their behavior says otherwise. Finally, many of the values and basic assumptions within an organization have been taken for granted. People have been passing them off as “just the way we are” and “just the way we do things around here” people often do not realize that it is all part of their organizational culture.


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