How to examine the culture of your organisation


Trying to understand the culture of your organisation is clearly important, but it is not straightforward.  Culture can be analysed by observing the cultural elements (the routines and rituals, stories, symbols, power structures, organisational structures, and control systems).

Examine Culture As It Is Now

Look at each element separately, and asking yourself questions that help you determine the dominant factors in each element. Elements and related questions are shown below:


  • What stories do people currently tell about your organization?
  • What stories do they tell new people who join the organisation?
  • Do stories relate to: strengths or weaknesses? successes or failures?
  • What core belief do the stories in my place reflect?
  • Who are the heroes, villains, mavericks and fools in these stories? Why?
  • What norms to mavericks deviate from?

Rituals and Routines

  • How do members of the organisation behave towards each other?
  • What behaviours and actions do management value?
  • What patterns of behaviour are always apparent? What would be immediately obvious if changed?
  • What behaviours do training programs emphasise?


  • What are the visual representations of the company including logos, how plush the offices are, and the formal or informal dress codes etc.?
  • Is organisation-specific jargon or language used?
  • What status symbols are there?
  • What aspects of the organisation are highlighted in publicity?

 Organizational Structure

  • Is the structure flat or hierarchical? Formal or informal?
  • Where are the formal lines of authority?
  • Do structures encourage collaboration or competition?
  • What is the informal structure? What internal coalitions exist?
  • Does the structure encourage collaboration or competition?

 Control Systems

  • What is most closely monitored / controlled?
  • Is emphasis on reward or punishment?
  • How do employees get rewarded for good work or penalized for poor work?
  • Is the organisation generally loosely or tightly controlled?
  • What reports are issued to keep control of operations, finance, etc…?

 Power Structures

  • Who has the real power in the organization?
  • What do leaders believe in and champion within the organization?
  • Who makes or influences decisions?
  • How is this power used or abused?
  • How do people oppose change?


As these questions are answered, you start to build up a picture of what is influencing your corporate culture. Now you need to look at the web as a whole and think about the overall culture.

Based on: Exploring Corporate Strategy, 6th edition, Johnson & Scholes, Prentice-Hall, 2002, pp230-238

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