Organizational culture is instrumental in shaping employees’ behavior. It is possible to state that it defines the development of any organization. Organizational culture can be defined as a set of “shared basic assumptions” that are considered valid by all the members of the organization (Ehrhart, Schneider & Macey 2013, p. 2). Three perspectives can be employed to approach organizational culture.
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Integration perspective sees the organization as a unified entity that strives for harmony, clarity, and homogeneity (Smerek 2010). There is a single culture shared by all the members, and although there can be some other cultures, they are inferior. The culture is the set of values that create the necessary background to integrate all members.
From the differentiation perspective, the organizational culture cannot be unified and adopted by all employees due to diversity. Proponents of this approach stress that clarity can arise within subcultures only as employees are very different and often unite in specific groups. The subcultures are often in conflict with each other as they have rather different features.
The fragmentation perspective sees the organizational culture as a set of loosely linked subcultures that are changing and can be in conflict. From this perspective, the consensus is “issue-specific and transient” (Smerek 2010, p. 384). According to proponents of this framework, subcultures often form issue-based coalitions. It is possible to identify similarities and differences of the perspectives with the use of different theories on culture.
Schein’s three levels of culture
Schein developed a three-level model based on the assumption that three levels of culture exist. These levels are basic assumptions, values, and artifacts (Becerra-Fernandez & Leidner 2014). Basic assumptions are shared by members of the organization and transform into particular values. The most vivid level is the one of the artifacts that are developed and accumulated based on values. As for similarities, it is necessary to note that they all share particular values and assumptions. Importantly, the integration and differentiation approaches accept the existence of the superior culture and inferior subcultures while fragmentation perspective focuses on plurality. Therefore, it is possible to note that all the three perspectives similarly see the presence of diverse assumptions, values as well as artifacts.
At the same time, the degree of adoption of assumptions, values and artifacts makes the three approaches different. The integration framework sees the culture unified, and the three levels of culture are ‘universally’ adopted in the organizations. However, there can be some other cultures and their different levels may appear. For instance, while a single culture (on all levels) is accepted, some values or assumptions can also exist, but they will be less articulated. From differentiation perspective, there can be one superior culture, but other subcultures may have a significant influence on the organization. These cultures may intermingle on some levels. According to the fragmentation perspective, various cultures exist, and they can occasionally share some values, assumptions or artifacts.
Handy’s cultural typology
Handy introduced a typology that sheds light on some aspects of the culture. The typology includes such types of culture as power, role, task and person (Walker 2011). All the three perspectives can see the organizational culture as role and person cultures. The role culture implies that the focus is placed on the roles rather than personalities while the person culture involves the focus on an individual.
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The two other types of Handy’s typology unveil the differences between the perspectives. Power culture can be applied in the integration perspective where there is a unified culture with a possibility to tolerate some subcultures that are inferior. This type can be partially applicable within the differentiation perspective as there can be a superior culture with central power although the power is often shared by subcultures. The task culture can be applicable within the fragmentation perspective only as the framework reveals the existence of many cultures that can form coalitions to complete certain tasks, which makes the organizations task-oriented.
Hofstede’s five dimensions
It is possible to note that Hofstede’s five dimensions can be regarded as the most comprehensive framework to discover similarities and differences between the three perspectives in question. The dimension of collectivism vs. individualism unveils the similarity as the three perspectives see cultures (irrespective of the power concentration) as sets of values shared by people within these structures (Morschett, Schramm-Klein & Zentes 2015). Thus, all the perspectives acknowledge people’s need to develop and share some values.
The other four dimensions reveal the differences between the perspectives. The power dimension shows that all the three approaches see the power distribution differently. The integration framework insists on centralized power (characterized by power respect), differentiation perspective acknowledges the possibility of centralized power but focuses on the power distribution within groups (characterized by power tolerance). Whereas, fragmentation approach sees the organizational culture as a set of equally powerful cultures.
Uncertainty avoidance also shows the different approaches. Thus, the highest degree of uncertainty avoidance is found within the integration perspective. Uncertainty acceptance is a characteristic feature of the fragmentation perspective while the differentiation approach is in-between. The uncertainty is minimal when there is a single culture. The degree of uncertainty increases with the increase in the number of cultures.
As regards masculinity vs. femininity domain, the fragmentation perspective stands out as the organization is task-oriented, which is the focus of masculine cultures. The differentiation and integration perspectives can imply different degrees of femininity. Finally, long-termism dimension unveils the differences. The fragmentation perspective stands out as it focuses on short-term oriented cultures. The integration perspective involves the focus on long-term oriented cultures, and the differentiation perspective is in-between.
On balance, it is possible to note that the three perspectives mentioned above have something in common but are quite different. Such theories on culture as Schein’s three levels of culture, Handy’s cultural typology and Hofstede’s five dimensions help identify these similarities and differences. It is necessary to point out that integration and differentiation perspectives are rather closely connected while fragmentation framework stands out.
Becerra-Fernandez, I & Leidner, D 2014, Knowledge management: an evolutionary view, Routledge, New York.
Ehrhart, MG, Schneider, B & Macey, WH 2013, Organizational climate and culture: an introduction to theory, research, and practice, Routledge, New York.
Morschett, D, Schramm-Klein, H & Zentes, J 2015, Strategic international management: text and cases, Springer, Siegen.
Smerek, RE 2010, ‘Cultural perspectives of academia: toward a model of cultural complexity’, in JC Smart (ed), Higher education: handbook of theory and research, Springer Science+Business Media, New York, pp. 381-423.
Walker, A 2011, Organizational behaviour in construction, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester.