CMWKFI – Organizational Culture Theory

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Organizational Culture Theory (OCT) is based on a metaphor – a creative device to make meaning by comparing two disparate ideas or things. According to the Encyclopedia of Communication Theory, metaphors can be useful tools for understanding theories. In this case, we have a theory based on Clifford Geertz’s metaphor of an organization’s culture as that of a spider web. It is a rich metaphor for representing the way communication takes work, binds us to others, and gives our lives meaning:

We are clearly in a different realm of communication research! This realm does not have to do with testing people, putting concepts into measurable variables, or looking for validity or reliability. Instead, it relies upon a very different kind of knowledge. The researcher must both objectively understand and become a part of the organization he or she is studying to be able to observe it in its entirety.

Ethnography of Communication is a qualitative methodology that uncovers and interprets artifacts, stories, rituals, and practices to reveal meaning in a culture. The ethnographer takes time to observe, analyze, and interpret cultural practices. Typically, an ethnographer will hold off on having strong hypotheses that s/he is testing. Instead, based upon the observations and field notes, the researcher begins to see the connections among behaviors, rituals, and images.

It’s important to understand:

  1. A good ethnographer is conscious of his/her own values and beliefs and how they might impose upon an interpretation of another culture;
  2. A good ethnographer recognizes that no level of observation will answer all the questions one might have about a culture; and
  3. The best ethnographies allow “the observeds” to comment upon the ethnographer’s “findings.”

Ethnographic study of organizations shows members act out certain communicative performances, which result in a unique organizational culture. The members of an organization bond through these performances, a metaphor suggesting that organizational life is like a theater presentation:

  • Ritual Performances – Regular and recurring presentations in the workplace.
  • Passion Performances – Organizational stories that employees share with one another.
  • Social Performances – Organizational behaviors intended to demonstrate cooperation and politeness with others.
  • Political Performances – Organizational behaviors that demonstrate power or control.
  • Enculturation Performances – Organizational behaviors that assist employees in discovering what it means to be a member of an organization.

(Ritual performances include personal rituals, things you routinely do at the workplace; task rituals, the routines associated with a particular job; social rituals, those routines that involve relations with others in the workplace; and organizational rituals, which are routines that pertain to the overall organization.)

It is through these “performances” that members of an organization create and maintain a shared sense of reality. This reality shapes the values they share and understand. Different organizations have different organizational realities. Because of this, the actions performed by members of an organization are interpreted differently depending on the organization. Different organizations use different symbols. Common symbols in the workplace are:

  • Physical Symbols: Material objects including logos, design, decor, and even buildings.
  • Behavioral Symbols: Rewards and punishments, rituals, traditions, ceremonies, and customs.
  • Verbal Symbols: Jargon, names and nicknames, jokes, stories, history, and metaphors.

Please select and address at least one of the following activities in a carefully crafted response. But before you tackle either exercise, please make sure you have read the materials at all of the links in this discussion prompt.

Activity #1

To get a better sense of these principles, please watch this first episode of the American television sitcom “The Office” on the Daily Motion website.

It depicts the everyday life of employees of the Scranton, Penn., office of the Dunder-Mifflin paper company. They work in a chaotic environment led by a self-absorbed, narcissistic manager named Michael Scott. Watch the sitcom carefully for how the employees process the information that they may be laid off.

Question to answer:

Please listen to theorist Stan Deetz explain how communication works in an organization:

What is the communication process in the episode of “The Office” sitcom that you just watched? What do you think would be a good metaphor for Dunder-Mifflin? How does the culture compare your office? What are three examples of OIT present in the TV pilot?

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