Organizational Culture

Submitted by John Thornburn on April 7, 2013 - 11:20pm

I have disclosed a number of times both my interest and curiosity about the value of an organization's culture. As I read various articles for a current literature review on shared leadership I came across an easy to follow model that may be of interest to my readers.

                            Patsy 058

Linnenlueke and Griffiths (2010) have adapted a four quadrant framework of organizational culture. In the top left quadrant place "human relations" and in the bottom left "Process Oriented". Both of these represent internal organizational mechanisms. In the top right quadrant place the word "Open System" and in the lower right "Goal Oriented". The right side represents external forces. According to Linnenluecke and Griffiths, "each quadrant emphasizes different aspects of the organization: people, adaptation, stability, and task accomplishment" (p. 360). Each of these are described below in the hopes that you can reflect on your organization or Board of Directors and ask which quadrant you usually operate from and whether it is where you want to be.

When an organization is in the "Process Oriented" frame there is a rigidity that promotes stability. Linnenluecke and Griffiths described it as a hierarchical system that works well under stable conditions to produce preset ends (p. 360). The means to reach this level of internal control in the culture puts "greater emphasis on economic performance" of its personnel (p. 360). The impact however is that this type of culture creates a tension that may prevent innovation from occurring (p. 361).

The second -internal- frame of "Human Relations" places a greater "emphasis on social interaction, interpersonal relations, employee development and the creation of a humane work environment" (p. 361). This frame is where I believe most organizations think they want to be, but in my experience quickly draw back down into a process culture. Few organizations have a true coaching and mentoring culture. In the social services sector, one of the reasons could be due to the challenge of balancing productivity alongside ethical approaches to labour relations driven by issues of social justice in our workplaces. Linnenluecke and Griffiths posited that innovation is often in conflict between business and social issues that are confined by internal processes (p. 361). How organizations can be fair and focus on investing in their staff holistically will be the gauge of their success in this frame.

The third organizational culture is driven by "Rational Goals". This type of organization was found in Linnenluecke and Griffiths' (2010) research to reinvest their cost savings from developing efficient systems back into human services (p. 361). I would stretch to call this the philanthropic frame as it reinvests dividends back into the services for the community. This model takes strength from "rational planning and organizing" to achieve its goals through "the efficient use of resources, planning and goal setting" (Linnenluecke & Griffiths, 2010, p. 361). This external, inflexible frame however is still driven by corporate vision and direction.

The "Open System" culture, like the goal frame is externally driven but more specifically  by the "external environment in affecting the behavior, structure and life changes of organizations" (Linnenluecke and Griffiths, p. 361). What I find interesting about this frame is that it allows for true influence through collaborative engagement toward a social purpose. It bring in the social justice, human relations with stakeholder driven goals that are flexible. Hopefully it is also meaningful through staff and consumer engagement processes, truly shaping an inclusive culture. The authors promoted this culture as one that "emphasizes moral authority, social integration....plac[ing] greater emphasis on innovation for achieving ecological and social sustainability" (p. 362).

Finally, if none of the above cultures fit your organization then it is possible that you operate within a blend of the four types. Personally I can reflect on my experiences in three of the frames. In my experience working with nonprofit organizations and consulting with many others I have operated in all but the open systems culture. I guess I can aspire to be part of one one day...but that is another story...

If you want some personal coaching or a board development seminar on this topic, please feel free to call me at 604-307-0454 or by email at


 Linnenluecke, M. K., & Griffiths, A. (2010). Corporate sustainability and organizational culture. Journal of World Business, 45, 357-366. doi:10.1016/j.jwb.2009.08.006

Looking at Neighbourhood groups

Hi John, thank you for sharing this model.  In reflecting on it, I can identify how different organizations I have worked or volunteered with have functioned from different paradigms.  Learning to adjust to each of these frames has been key for finding successes in these work places.  It reminds me of a conversation I had yesterday with Deb who is head of community connectivity in Kitchener about different cultures in neighbourhood groups.  Some are focused on building relationships, others are focusing on fighting for or against things.  Each style has a different flavour to it and needs to be engaged with in a unique manner. 

Kitchen Table

Derek, thanks for the comment. If you haven't read it yet, I suggest that you find a copy of Wendy Sarkissian's book Kitchen Table Sustainability. It is very good. The reference is below.





Sarkissian, W., Hofer, N., Shore, Y., Vajda, S., & Wilkinson, C. (2009). Kitchen table sustainability: Practical recipes for community engagement with sustainability. London, UK: Earthscan