Four Types of Organizational Culture

I’m sure you’ve heard your COO or CEO boldly state, ” We need stronger organizational culture if we want be a competitive workplace with happy employees!” Yeah, I know, early morning Monday meeting and your CEO is playing powerpoint in front of you with slides that scream, ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE. But what is, I mean, really is, organizational culture? Well, acknowledging that organizational culture is an important aspect for business models today, this is a brief overview of four culture types typically found in an organization: Control (hierarchy), Compete (market), Collaborate (clan), and Create (adhocracy). According to Bruce M. Tharp at Haworth, “A range of organizational characteristics across two dimensions were found critical to organizational effectiveness. The spatial implications for each type are presented so that workspace planners might be able to interpret the results of an organizational culture assessment in their process of designing environments that support the way companies work and represent themselves.”

So, what are the two dimensions Bruce is referring to? Well, the first dimension places the values of flexibility, discretion, and dynamism at one end of the scale with stability, order, and control on the other. This illustrates that some workplaces emphasize adaptation, change, and organic process (for example, like most start-up companies) while others are effective in emphasizing stable, predictable, and mechanistic process (like NASA, Citigroup, and pretty much most universities).

The second dimension is marked with internal orientation, integration, and unity at one end of the scale with external orientation, differentiation, and rivalry on the other end. Again, as in the first dimension, some organizations are effective through focusing on themselves and their internal process. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard one of your COO say, “If we improve our efficiency and do things right, we will be successful in the marketplace.” Yup … they’re talking about the second dimension. Other companies excel by focusing on the market or competition. Does this sound familiar, “Our rivals have weak customer service, so this is where we will differentiate ourselves.”?

Bruce Tharp goes on to reveal, “The key to using culture to improve performance lies in matching culture or attributes to organizational goals.” Okay, be honest, developing, enhancing, or revamping your culture, are you really thinking about matching attributes to organizational goals? The reality is, most people aren’t. Typically, our days are filled with meetings, crises management, emails, and whole lot of other distracting variables that hinder us ever really getting down to cultural alignment.


An open and friendly place to work where people share a lot of themselves. It is like an extended family. Leaders are considered to be mentors or even parental figures. Group loyalty and sense of tradition are strong. There is an emphasis on the long-term benefits of human resources development and great importance is given to group cohesion.There is a strong concern for people. The organization places a premium on teamwork, participation, and consensus.


A dynamic, entrepreneurial, and creative place to work. Innovation and risk-taking are embraced by employees and leaders. A commitment to experimentation and thinking differently are what unify the organization. They strive to be on the leading edge. The long-term emphasis is on growth and acquiring new resources. Success means gaining unique and new products or services. Being an industry leader is important. Individual initiative and freedom are encouraged.


A highly structured and formal place to work. Rules and procedures govern behavior. Leaders strive to be good coordinators and organizers who are efficiency-minded. Maintaining a smooth-running organization is most critical. Formal policies are what hold the group together. Stability, performance, and efficient operations are the long-term goals. Success means dependable delivery, smooth scheduling, and low cost. Management wants security and predictability.


A results-driven organization focused on job completion. People are competitive and goal-oriented. Leaders are demanding, hard-driving, and productive.The emphasis on winning unifies the organization. Reputation and success are common concerns. Long-term focus is on competitive action and achievement of measurable goals and targets. Success means market share and penetration. Competitive pricing and market leadership are important.

So, which one of these four basic culture types is your organization currently operating in? Which one would you recommend to your COO?