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Project Success and Organizational Culture – Part 2

Understanding and assessing your organization’s culture can mean the difference between success and failure in today’s fast changing business environment.

Leaders typically have a view of their culture based on wishes than on a grounded, rational view. Understanding and then confronting the reality of an organization’s culture may not always be pleasant, but it is necessary. Very often what management pays attention to and rewards are often the strongest indicators of the organization’s culture. This is often quite different than the values it verbalizes or the ideals it strives for. Think for a minute about the culture you work in and imagine you were asked to describe your organization to an outsider. How would you answer the following questions:

  • What ten words would you use to describe your company?
  • Around here what’s really important?
  • Around here who gets promoted?
  • Around here what behaviors get rewarded?
  • Who fits in and who does not fit in?
  • Does management encourage or discourage innovation?
  • Do mavericks fit in or do they get pushed out? \
  • Does management reward employees for coming up with new ideas and challenging old ways of doing things?
  • Does the organization truly value excellence or is the mentality “just ship it”? Does management pay attention to the wellbeing of employees or is it completely focused on task and profits?

This kind of inquiry can give insight into the real culture of your organization and some of its underlying values and beliefs. It may not be what you think. Your organization’s culture is not the espoused values developed at an offsite meeting and posted on your website. These are ideals. What you strive to be and what you hope to endorse may be completely different from the values, beliefs, and norms expressed in your actual practice and behavior. It is critical that you awaken and find out who you really are as well as striving for whom you want to be. A good evaluation or assessment of where you are now can provide measurable data about the real organization’s values and beliefs. Individuals, groups, departments, projects, and organizations seldom fit one particular classification or pure type because they represent complex social systems and mixtures of many cultural patterns. Nevertheless, there are models that identify some systematic process that project and senior leaders can use to make sense of their environment. The one most compelling, elegant and robust used extensively by some very high profile firms is the model created by William Schneider. The rest of this paper will briefly describe Schneider’s model, an archetypal model that can be helpful for the project as well as senior leaders in understanding the different dimensions of culture.


The foundation of each of the four cultures rests on what each culture focuses on and how each makes decisions. Each culture is uniquely defined by the kind of input that is important to it and by the process it relies on to form judgments and make decisions. When viewed together, the four cultures reveal a number of underlying patterns (See Exhibit 1).

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Exhibit 1

The underlying pattern is illustrated by two axes that when combined with one another along two separate axes yield four component parts pf the table and represent the four core cultures. The vertical axis considers what an organization pays attention to or the content. The horizontal axis considers how an organization makes decisions, forms judgments or the process. The content axis is bounded by actuality and possibility; the process axis is bounded by impersonal and personal.

It is important to note that Schneider states “that the qualities and characteristics associated with the content and process axes are organizational and cultural preferences or central tendencies” and as such “are not exclusionary – having a preference for one does not preclude involvement in the other.” It does not mean that facts are all that an actuality organization deals with or that a possibility organization never attends to facts. One simply predominates or is central to how the firm works.

A brief description of each core culture is provided below.


This culture basically has its roots in teams, family, and affiliation and is all about synergy. It fundamentally exists to ensure unity and close connections with the customer. It pays a great deal of attention to concrete, tangible reality, actual experience and matters of practicality and utility. However, its decision-making process is people driven, organic and informal.

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CONTROL Core Culture

This culture is all about certainty and has its roots in a more militaristic model. It fundamentally exists to ensure certainty, predictability, safety, accuracy and dependability.

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This culture has its roots in religion and religious systems, meaningfulness, and self-actualization and is all about enrichment. It pays attention chiefly to potentiality, ideals and beliefs, aspirations and inspirations, and creative options. Its decision-making method is people driven, open-minded and subjective.

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This culture is very much fixed on achievement and gaining distinction on being the very best and or having the very finest/highest quality – a five-star rating. This is the culture of uniqueness, of one-of-a-kind products and/or services.

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