Does organizational structure affect culture?

What do you get when a rigidly structured enterprise hires a team of former digital nomads? In rare cases, the company would get a beacon of creative light and an inspirational idea how to secure its place on the market. More often, however, the team of former digital nomads who are used to freedom when it comes to creativity and decision-making gets overwhelmed by strict hierarchy and excessive bureaucracy.

In that case, the team is left with two options: either they will adapt (which is time-consuming), or they will leave the organization with the excuse of not being able to adapt to new surroundings.

Simply put, they suffer because their creativity and their performance are under the influence of drastically different organizational culture than they are used to.

Let’s take a step back. Examining the relationship between organizational structure and culture change hinges on two premises: First, an organizational culture develops around the organizational structure, and a culture change will be required to change the firm’s structure. Second, an organizational structure can remain, but the organizational culture can change if management changes how workers are assigned to roles in the same structure.

Taco Bell offers a good example of how changing the organizational structure at every level of the organization can lead to culture change. In a customer-service-driven model, Taco Bell eliminated layers of management and changed the roles of managers at all levels. For example, a supervisor went from managing five or more stores in 1988 to 20 or more stores in 1991. Managers also focused on coaching and support.

Another way to change the culture of an organization is to reassign technical specialists in existing departments. For example, you can decentralize the HR department and move an HR professional into each major department. As an HR expert, the professional could handle all affairs for the staff in that department in consultation with the manager.

Some management teams bring the need for culture change to workers, using a grassroots approach to changing the structure of the company. Managers might present the problem of wanting to make the company more responsive to the market’s changing conditions and then use town hall meetings and other methods to get employee input for restructuring the company. This is a multidisciplinary approach, but it succeeds if employees change their attitudes by collaborating with management.

A company with a strong organizational culture can effectively change its culture because its employees are responsive to their organizational structure. For example, if employees are highly committed to a work-team structure and their teams desire to shift the culture to focus on new products or services, they might follow the team. They will have to adjust to new ways that the company will organize itself and position itself in the market to be successful.

Thus, if the company chooses a particular culture and implements it throughout all departments, “natural selection” will soon take its course: employees who feel that organizational culture suits them will stay within the organization. Others will leave on their own accord. Natural selection is thus in force.

Check out my related post: What can we learn about culture from the Enron?

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