B325 workload

It’s not often that I have negative things to say about an OU course, but I suppose it was bound to happen soon, as I progress with my studies.

Now that I’m nearing the end of B325, I can look back and recognise that I’ve really enjoyed most of the course, but for the last couple of months, the workload has been incredibly gruelling, at times involving some 20+ hours per week in order for me to complete all the readings, module activities and TMAs.

I personally believe this course should be extended into a longer one, instead of trying to cram everything into just five months. There really isn’t time to fully investigate the theories and take everything in over such a short period.

At the beginning of the course, I started a Facebook group to discuss the course with other students outside of the official OU Tutor Group and Student Cafe forums. Many in the Facebook group have said the same thing: that the workload is far too heavy. The fact that lots of students dropped out of my tutor group half way through is also an interesting point to note.

If you are considering taking this course, make sure you know exactly what you are getting into, and ensure you have enough time to dedicate to it. It’s a very good course, but it is tough.

Schein’s theory of organisational culture

Schein’s definition of organisational culture

Schein (2004) argues that there are three major levels to consider when analysing culture:

  • Artefacts
  • Espoused beliefs and values
  • Basic underlying assumptions

The levels of organisational culture and relationship between them

Artefacts are the surface level of an organisational culture, tangible, easily seen and felt manifestations such products, physical environment, language, technology, clothing, myths and stories, published values, rituals and ceremonies, etc.

Espoused beliefs and values are the next level of organisational culture, including strategies, goals, shared perceptions, shared assumptions, norms, beliefs and values instilled by founders and leaders.

Basic underlying assumptions are the base level of organisational culture, and are the deeply-embedded, unconscious, taken for granted assumptions that are shared with others. Any challenge of these assumptions will result in anxiety and defensiveness.

How we should interpret the most visible symbols of a culture

The most visible symbols should not be the only aspects used to interpret culture, due to the ease with which they can be misinterpreted. Focusing only on visible symbols will result in a failure to grasp the underlying basic assumptions that are fundamental to understanding the culture. Similarly, it is important to recognise that even espoused beliefs and values may only reflect the aspirations of a culture, and not the actuality.

(Source: Schein, 2004, cited in B325, Organisational Collaboration).

Trompenaars’ model of corporate culture

Trompenaars model of culture is based on two axes: on the horizontal axis, is an assessment of whether a culture is person oriented, or task oriented; on the vertical axis, is assessment of whether a culture is hierarchical, or egalitarian (equal; equal rights or opportunities).

Combined, this model divides into four quadrants or typologies of organisational culture:

  • The combination of a task oriented and egalitarian culture is known as the ‘guided missile’, and is characterised by strategy, management by objectives, and performance-related rewards. Very popular in the Anglo-Saxon culture. The vision, values, and mission combine and shape the guided missile, an organisation typically loaded with MBAs. Criticisms are the fact that the guided missile does not focus on the person, or have much respect for authority.
  • The combination of task oriented and hierarchical culture is known as the ‘Eiffel tower’, and is characterised by structure, management by job description, and expertise. Very popular in the Germanic culture, and one of the reasons why Germans have so many titles – they show the expertise that is important for a leader in an Eiffel tower culture.
  • The combination of hierarchy and person orientation is known as the ‘Family’, and is characterised by the network, who do you know, management by subjectives, and respect for authority. This is a power-oriented culture. Very popular in Latin, Asian, African cultures.
  • The combination of person and egalitarian orientation is known as the ‘Incubator’, characterised by organised chaos, management by passion, and learning. Silicon Valley, and small consulting firms are typical of the organisations that adopt the incubator culture.

The model is useful for identifying tensions between organisations which may have different dominant cultures. Sometimes corporate culture overrides national culture; sometimes it’s supporting.

(Source: The Open University, 2012).

Are theories of national culture valid?

Brendan McSweeney (2002) has heavily criticised Hofstede’s theory of national culture for a number of convincing reasons:

Narrow population

The primary data were extracted from a number of surveys carried out in 1967 and 1973 within IBM subsidiaries in 66 countries. Although there were a large number of respondents (117,000+), only the data from 40 countries were used, and in only six of those countries were there more than 1000 respondents in both surveys.

Hofstede speaks of ‘national samples’, but the surveys were actually limited to a narrow population within IBM, with those surveyed being similar in every respect apart from their nationality.

Three discrete components of culture

An assumption Hofstede makes is that there is only one IBM culture, and that there are no occupational cultures existing within the overall IBM culture. Similarly, he presumes that the combination of national culture and occupational culture has no bearing on the overall organisational culture of IBM, expecting every employee to share the same organisational and occupational culture, regardless of their nationality.

Homogeneous national culture

Hofstede relies on the idea of a shared national culture held by all individuals within a nation. It could be argued that it follows that national culture is homogeneous, but Hofstede goes on to recognise that some of the survey responses were radically different within countries, thus leading him to state there were only averages, or central tendencies.

Non-specific national culture

Presupposing that he can generalise about national culture from data specific to situations within IBM, Hofstede claims there is a single national culture, even though the data analysed were confined to certain categories of IBM employees, the questions were about workplace issues, the surveys were analysed within the workplace, and the surveys were not repeated outside the workplace.

What Hofstede identified was not national culture, but an averaging of opinions specific to situations. These averages were then extrapolated to define dimensions or aspects of national culture.

Hofstede acknowledges that there may be sub-cultures within nations, he is inconsistent by allowing them little influence. If sub-cultures exist within nations, then it follows that uniformity of culture across a nation cannot be assumed.

(Source: McSweeney, 2002, cited in B325, Organisational Collaboration).

Theories of national culture

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner

According to Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, Developing cross-cultural competence is about:

  • learning to recognise cultural differences, but remembering that every person is an individual, with their own integrity
  • learning to respect other cultures, their values and behaviours
  • learning to reconcile these differences so you can be more effective in doing business and managing

Remember the three Rs: Recognise, Respect, and Reconcile.

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner recognise seven fundamental dimensions of culture:

  • Universalism to Particularism
  • Individualism to Communitarianism
  • Specific to Diffuse
  • Neutral through to being Affective
  • Achievement to Ascription
  • Past-Present-Future
  • Internal to External control

Hofstede

Hofstede’s theory of culture is similar, in that he proposes culture consists of a variety of dimensions against which a nation is scored, giving a picture of the national culture.

Hofstede recognises six dimensions of culture:

  • Power Distance (PDI)
  • Individualism vs. Collectivism (IDV)
  • Masculinity vs. Femininity (MAS)
  • Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI)
  • Long-term vs. Short-term Orientation (LTO)
  • Indulgence vs. Restraint (IVR)

(Source: The Open University, 2012)