Business organisations and their environments: Culture
Business organisations and their environments: Culture

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Business organisations and their environments: Culture

2 Culture

Activity 1: Defining culture

Allow 60 minutes for this activity.

This first activity will help you to define key norms and values. It consists of four separate tasks, the first three of which involve reading short pieces of writing. Each of these extracts deals with a different aspect of culture – beginning with the idea of culture itself and then moving on, more specifically, to the notions of ‘national culture’ and ‘organisational culture’.

Task A: Reading an explanation of culture and thinking about an example to illustrate it

When you read the short web page (linked below) from an international consultancy, think about the following questions:

  1. Why do you think the authors use the idea of three layers when explaining culture?

  2. Why does the explanation apply to both national and organisational culture?

You may find that you can organise your thoughts better if you jot down a few notes in response to these questions as you read the article.

Click 'View document' below for a pdf of ‘The three layers of culture’ (Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, c. 2007).

act1 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]


Here are the thoughts I had:

  1. When I first saw this account it brought home to me that culture is a complex idea. I also realised that thinking about culture just in terms of prevailing norms and values was too simple. It occurred to me that the idea of layers and the onion was a good way of thinking about norms and values. It helps to illustrate the fact that while some aspects of these may be explicit, such as the food we eat, most of our norms and values are not visible and are therefore hard to identify. At the deepest level, or inner layer, these values may well have been ingrained in us over many years as part of a socialisation process. So the definition in this account also made me think that what I see as normal may not be at all normal to someone from a different culture.

  2. My thought was that the explanation applies to both types of culture because both organisations and nations have norms and values, and these can operate at more than one level.

Task B: Explaining national culture – reading about Hofstede

Task A considered the idea of culture as a whole. This one looks specifically at national culture by asking you to read Hofstede's definition of culture in Organization Theory.

It will help you to make a few brief notes on the main aspects of national culture as Hofstede sees it.

Now read Hofstede's definition of culture, linked below.

Click 'View document' below for a pdf version of Hofstede's definition of culture.

hofstede definition

Note: there is no feedback for this task.

Task C: An explanation of organisational culture – reading about Schein

This task builds on the previous two tasks. It completes the explanations of culture by looking at organisational culture.

It will help if you make a few notes during the following reading on the main aspects of Schein's view on organisational culture as explained by Pugh and Hickson.

Now read the extract on Schein from Writers on Organizations, linked below.

Click 'View document' below for the extract on Schein.


Note: there is no feedback for this task.

Task D: Reviewing the explanations

Look at the notes you have made on the ideas of Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, Hofstede and Schein. Then ask yourself the following question:

  • What do they have in common?


As I read through the notes I had made, the first thing that struck me was that culture is about shared patterns of behaviour – or, as Schein says, ‘a pattern of basic assumptions’ (Pugh and Hickson, 2007, p. 170). I also thought back to levels – Schein does not mention these specifically but they are implicit in what he says. To me all three extracts emphasise the point that culture is passed on to new members – of a society (or nation) or an organisation – so that it becomes part of the way they behave.

This activity is an example of comparing different perspectives. This is very common in academic work and it means looking for similarities. It is often combined with contrasting, which means looking for differences.


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