Friday, February 3, 2017

Shared values or power relationships?

John Traphagan has a different idea on organizational culture.
"A common set of shared values" has always been my working definition, though I admit that, like multiple "identities" at home and work, there is a culture at work and there is a culture at home, and they may not be the same, and thus the "sharing thing" may have -- likely has -- borders.

But Traphagan goes further. He asserts that trying to impose or enforce a sharing of values thus to make a common culture is possibly a divider rather than a unifier. (There's a rebel or a rogue in us all)

Have a read from an essay he wrote:
Fundamentally, a culture is not a set of (marginally) shared values; it’s a web of power relationships in which people are embedded and that they use to meet both personal and collective goals but that can also restrict their ability to achieve goals.

Those power relationships can function to pull people together, but they also can pull them apart because they are the product of differential access to resources. And differences in power influence how we respond to and think about values espoused as being shared by members of a group.

That's certainly different than the way I've thought about organizational culture. Doesn't sound like sharing, commonality, or other attributes are present, or certainly not dominant.

Of course, Traphagan works in an academic environment. It's been my experience that on the teaching side -- different from the university business -- such is somewhat feudal and not at all common.

Which is not to say that there's not value competition within projects and the business generally -- to be sure there are. And power webs certainly exist. But my experience is that there is an arching culture even over the largest organizations that sets tone, ethics, morality, etc for the organization.

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