Organisational culture

Organisational culture is considered the sixth management perspective. It constitutes those informal relationships and values which represent the practice and aspirations of individuals. These are manifested through symbols and rituals rather than the formal structure of the organisation (which constitute the official goals and formal relationships). Often managers are expected to shape ritual and tradition in educational establishments in order to improve organisational effectiveness. Cultural models assume that beliefs, values and ideology are at the heart of organisations.

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Individuals hold certain ideas and value-preferences which influence how they behave and how they view the behaviour of other members. These norms become shared traditions which are communicated within the group and are reinforced by symbols and ritual. (Bush 1995, p. 130) It has become important for managers to understand culture and identify those unofficial and intangible elements that affect the functioning of an organisation. Only after shared values and beliefs are understood, can we successfully consider effecting educational improvement.

Gone are the early days of looking solely at the very formal bureaucratic classical perspective of management, where the needs of the individual in a social context were ignored, nowadays uniqueness is considered a virtue and that culture as a whole should be valued and fostered. It has been the aim of the UK government to produce ‘self-managing’ schools since the early 1990’s. This ultimately will result in unique entities and a stronger appreciation of culture that will affect the character of these unique educational establishments.

Values and Beliefs – Individuals of an organisation will bring their own values and beliefs to it. When values are shared by individuals the organisational culture has been created. When the culture is widely known and understood, the organisations members constantly reinforce it through their discourse and their actions. Events and behaviours are interpreted using cultural norms. Conformity with these norms may be ‘rewarded’ by approval or ‘membership’. (Morgan 1986, p. 128).

In reality, in most large organisations there are separate and often competing groups creating subcultures that share different values from each other and the organisation as a whole, called a ‘balkanised’ culture by Fullan and Hargreaves, (1992, p. 71) ‘Teachers in balkanised cultures attach their loyalties and identities to particular groups of their colleagues. They are usually colleagues with whom they work most closely, spend most time, socialise most often in the staff room. The existence of such groups in a school often reflects and reinforces very different group outlooks on learning, teaching styles, discipline and curriculum’.

Shared norms and meanings – Nias et al. (1989, p. 39) shows how group norms were established from their case study of primary schools: As staff talked, worked and relaxed together, they began to negotiate shared meanings which enabled them to predict each others’ behaviour. Consequently each staff developed its own taken-for-granted norms. Because shared meanings and ways of behaving became so taken for granted, existing staff were largely unaware of them. But they were visible to newcomers… Researchers moving between schools were constantly reminded of the uniqueness of each school’s norms.

Rituals and ceremonies – Schools are full of rituals and ceremonies, which are often used to develop and maintain its organisational culture according to its members. The organisation has opportunities both internally and to the external environment to promote its goals, values, beliefs and examples of ‘good’. O’Neill (1994, p. 104) talks about schools and colleges needing to relate successfully to their external environment and that changes in behaviour of the organisational culture help modify established norms and values.

He goes on to say that tangible manifestations of culture are of primary importance within the organisation. They help to promote and reinforce that translation of cultural values into appropriate norms and behaviour. Heroes and Heroines (those individual success stories consistent with the desired organisational culture) are given a special status and celebrated sometimes to convince peers/colleagues to emulate their behaviour, thus promoting the values, beliefs and ideologies of that particular organisation.

The research tool elected for use was by a questionnaire (Refer to Appendix B for the actual questionnaire used). This came about after initially discussing with colleagues attitudes towards management styles, issues and decisions, and the emerging culture that existed in TSI. It soon became apparent that without an anonymous individualised form of data collection, many views would be ignored, ‘kept secret’ and/or could easily be influenced by the dynamics of any group discussion. It was also important to empower the respondent to freely give his views.

The questions (actually statements) themselves were designed to reflect those initial thoughts from discussions with colleagues, and then streamlining into the four main management functions of planning, organising, leading and controlling as indicated in the literature review. Within these four, other issues such as: Aims and objectives (statements 1,2), setting and methods of achieving goals (3-10,16), planning of student related issues (11-15), organising resources (17-22), leadership (23,24), incentives and rewards (25-41), communications (42-45), rapport and relationships (46-57) and controlling (58-61) were discussed.

Rather than a simple yes/no response type questionnaire, it was more accurate to rate responses, indicating to some degree the strength of agreement of a statement. Many of the statements and resulting responses dealt with peoples opinions and attitudes, which rarely produce such polarised responses as yes or no. There were 6 possible responses: strongly agree, moderately agree, neutral, moderately disagree, strongly disagree and unable to rate.

Due to the impersonal nature of the questionnaire and the implicit difficulty in sensing whether responses were complete true feelings of the respondent, it became important to follow up the questionnaire with interviews, ensuring that the full benefit had been achieved from the questionnaire. Interviews were loosely structured basically to allow the individual to speak freely about his views and give the interviewer the chance to use probing questions to achieve a clearer understanding by more complex responses from the interviewee.

This worked fairly well, in that many of the interviewees were focussed in their thinking from the questionnaire. Through the interviews it was noticed that much thought had gone into their responses, probably due to the resulting discussions that took place around the institution from the questionnaire. The sample was limited to a total of twenty lecturers and the follow up interviews to ten. All questionnaires were completed. Mean values for responses were calculated for 20 staff members, 10 were foreigners from UK, and 10 were foreigners from Arabic speaking countries. (There were no local members of the lecturing staff from UAE.

In order to help aggregate the data into an entity, mean values were used. Responses that were ‘strongly agree’ were assigned a rating of 1, ‘moderately agree’ was given a 2, ‘neutral’ – 3, ‘moderately disagree’ – 4, ‘strongly disagree’ – 5. The calculated mean value was then rounded to the nearest whole number value and then translated back to the appropriate response. For example, for statement 1 – ‘The interview for employment at TSI was professionally run’ 5 responded ‘strongly agree’, 11 – ‘moderately agree’, 2 – ‘neutral’, 2 – ‘moderately disagree’, 0 – ‘strongly disagree’.