Lord of the Flies meets The Office

The tribes of Chakeshan in traditional attires attending the 25th Republic Day Silver Jubilee of the NSCN (IM) GPRN at Hebron Nangaland on march 22. by rajkumar1220.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ahinsajain/2924868770/

I know that Schein doesn’t depict organizational culture as a set of tribal, primitive practices with an ethnic focus; however, the term “culture” evokes the basic characteristics which a group of people have in common. As I read more into organizational learning for the nonprofit or public sector, I begin to more fully understand the distinctions and commonalities with for-profit groups. For instance, much of the literature cites turf protection as a barrier to organizational learning because it guards information and hinders communication. Turf protection can also be part of the organizational culture at the level of underlying assumptions. The nominal number of salaried positions within an established and secure nonprofit organization (NPO), especially a community-based or grassroots group, breeds potentially destructive competitiveness and lack of cooperation. While competition can be healthy within a group because it can push individuals to increase their performance, it does not guarantee the organization as a whole will develop. Individual development does not equal organizational development. The same theory applies to subgroups.

We have a teacher in-service coming up. Each training meeting focuses on a skill-set to develop subject matter expertise. As individual teachers, we are versed in linguistics, grammar, civics, etc. However, the knowledge sharing only happens at these sanctioned quarterly meetings. Dixon suggests that knowledge sharing should become a tacit process within the organization rather than a happenstance. I don’t know how to make this happen though. I know what the readings say should happen, and I can see that a lot of it is not happening. However, these last couple of chapters in Schein make me want to hold my tongue (especially since these observations and newbie analysis are unsolicited by my administrators). Amongst the impediments that I see in my organization, I also see positive attributes in certain areas that could easily be distributed to other areas. However, the last two chapters of Schein don’t empower me to share what my view of the happenings. It seems almost unhelpful to analyze a culture and then walk away. Also, I hope to draw accurate assumptions about my organization.

My personal involvement can hinder and help the analysis. As the researcher, I feel I should be especially rigid about my observations and the values I attach to them. However, as a member of the organization, I feel I personally know the organization and live their assumptions more so than an outside observer. Schein describes the researcher/consultant as a pseudo part-time employee. This struck a cord because I’ve been trying to balance the ideas of the researcher versus the practitioner in another course I’m currently enrolled. Given the limited time frame, I don’t know if we could accurately decipher the culture of an organization in which we were not already a part. The doctoral student conducted a cultural analysis of a corporation over a nine-month period, and I’m going to venture to say that she probably had more than one course in the area.

When we watched the Enron movie, Skilling’s childhood and beginnings resounded with me especially knowing that as an adult he was emulated and idolized. From a constructivist standpoint, I believe that the leader’s past experiences influence his decision-making and moral aptitude. These practices will have a trickle-d0wn effect, especially if those in inferior positions are like-minded individuals with similar experiential foundations. As an adult, overcompensation and moral detachment only prove what Skilling had thought all along… he was smarter than everyone else therefore better than everyone else. I know Wikipedia should not be a primary source, but there’s some very interesting information about Skilling including a very public nervous breakdown in 2004. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Skilling

I’m mixing Schein and Dixon, but it seems like it would be impossible to initiate learning orientation without understanding the culture.

Playing the Game

The amount of politicking in the process of building culture only validates the social aspect of organizational culture. Schein points out Goffman’s study of institutionalized individuals’ inability to comprehend subtleties in acceptable social behavior (Schein, 2004, p. 123). Most work and learning is done in a social setting. Most jobs require that work is done in a group or team; rarely are we allowed to accomplish entire tasks and mission’s in solitary silos. Even relatively new trends such as telecommuting or distance learning require social interaction in a newly defined sense. In these settings, we monitor our communication so as not to offend or degrade those with whom we work and learn. Schein (2004) is very blunt in his description of social niceties. However, those who do not practice them usually find it difficult to go against the grain of society or the group. Especially in the case of newcomers unaware of tacit intricacies of the group, people constantly test their boundaries and environment until they can establish some cognitive stability and assign a value or identity to the relationship. For instance, I do not speak with my co-workers the same way I talk to my boss. I have never tried to use a curse word or talk about drinking, etc, but I did notice when I joined two years ago, that no one else seemed to have this relationship with them. This was in stark contrast to my prior environment where a hard day’s work was rewarded with a group dinner and drinks on my boss’ tab. Those who are unable to correctly detect, understand, and adopt the culture will eventually be excluded from the group.

In that same token, those who are unable to adapt to a shift in culture will also find themselves excluded. Whether this is through a forced resignation or voluntarily seeking new employment, every adult needs to be valued in their professional and personal endeavors. It is the exception rather than the rule to find people who excel in positions they do not value nor do they feel maximize their potential.

I believe the respective industry informs a portion of the culture with the leadership and contributing individuals shaping and supplementing the largest majority. In the highly technical, competitive, and fast-paced world of business/technology consulting, it is not unheard of to expect your employer to buy you new clothes or the plane ticket based on immediacy vs. cost, as exhibited in Schein’s text. However, in a community-based organization, it is unheard of to lackadaisically use resources in this manner. In my experience, program managers crunch and recrunch numbers before taking any action. This leads to a heavy sense of bureaucracy due to the accountability of using donated or public funds. In a setting other than the competitive corporation, immediate action without proper rumination implies a lack of respect for the process as well as those affected.


Schein, E. H. (2004). Organizational Culture and Leadership. California: Jossey-Bass.

Reflector/Mirror 3: Pushing the product

It seems as if many of the learning organizations are using the process as a means to an end. In most cases, the end is increased profit and customer satisfaction. This made me think about the cycle in my setting, the classroom. How would we measure the benefits of an organizational learning (OL) framework once implemented? The context specific nature of OL lends itself to different types of businesses, entities, associations, etc.

Dixon explicitly outlines the difficulties in attributing results exclusively to a new process. This holds especially true in the classroom. In my adult ESL classroom, I can never say that my students know how to use adjective clauses because of my warm up, guidance, implementation, evaluation, and extension activities. My students may not walk out of the classroom using adjective clauses; however, they may be more aware when other people use it. Likewise, if the students do use the clauses after that day, I cannot guarantee that the material was new or that additional integration outside of the classroom did not contribute to the students’ understanding. Measuring the abilities and mapping the processes of the human mind and individual learning is extremely difficult. In education, there are too many outside influences and extenuating circumstances in order to guarantee that a certain intervention will yield an exact result. In adult education programs that deal with basic education, literacy, and language acquisition, resources are less than scarce. We can have the most innovative and collective programs and curriculum; however, a lack of performance and favorable assessment can always be attributed to the lack of resources and support.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, featuring the Marcus Roberts Trio by jordanfischer.

The analogy of the individual music player versus that of the symphony best demonstrates the capabilities of a learning organization. We can attribute all major advances in mankind to the power of the human mind. By harnessing that, the investment exponentially grows. In small ways, I recognize the intent to move toward more communal practices in team teaching and post mortem meetings, two common “artifacts” in educational culture. However, without the widespread and holistic application of organizational learning, the return on investment will be marginal.

Photo credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/jordanfischer/

Reflector.Mirror 2

Classroom Chairs 2 by James Sarmiento (old account).1

After reading more of Dixon’s take on the characteristics of a learning organization, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a correlation between the size of the organization and its ability to succeed as a learning organization. My initial assumption, based on my experience in and amongst both small and large organizations, is that there is no correlation. However, I can see how it can be argued both ways. The WHO, for example, is a multinational, nongovernmental agency. I didn’t think it likely that an entity that large would have the capability and fortitude to make the purposeful efforts to be a true learning organization. Even if headquarters workers have to rotate into the field for a third of the year, each regional office could be potentially isolated a majority of the time. I think this dichotomy makes WHO successful; they successfully straddle the line between overbearing authority and disjointed disfunction. Each office has a separate identity, purpose, and pathway to achieve that goal.

So why can’t smaller organizations adopt this structure? In my opinion, it goes back to the dominant ideology and culture that individuals have been acclimated to throughout their experience in society. Although a learning organization is democratic and collective, I think it has to start at the top as in the case of Johnsonville. If the janitors at the aforementioned factory had suddenly decided to start taking phone orders when that was clearly someone else’s role, I imagine there would be sincere concern on the part of the management and those whose responsibility it was to answer the phones. There is such an inherent competitive nature within society that it feels as if sharing information, responsibility, or the admission that we don’t know everything and can’t do everything somehow makes us inferior and obsolete. Also, if those same janitors had acted in concert with the line workers and other staff members, but without the consent and much to the chagrin of management, the longevity of those workers would be called into question.

I wish I could say that I always act for the greater good, that I am always thinking of the collective, or that I believe in organizational utopia. However, I admit that competitive schooling, employment, and life, in general, indoctrinated me into the person I am today. I do work well on teams, but I think an individual has to be saturated in this type of culture before they can deem it as potential reality rather than theoretical idealism. My reservation in these theories which have been so well demonstrated by well-known organizations, both corporate and not, only lie with the first hurdle – convincing the leadership to relinquish full control of the comings and goings of the group. As individuals, we can adopt the tenets set forth by Dixon; however, if the organization as a whole does not first adopt and recognize those behaviors as valuable to the mission and purpose, the benefits will be minimized. Dixon previously pointed out that an individual cannot change an entire organization. However, can change occur if 50 individuals with only 1/50th of the power of the executive lead the shift?

Photo credit: James Sarmiento. Obtained from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ijames/112866961/

Reflections for My Mirror: Entry 1

I’m very impressed by the organizational learning situation presented in the Dixon chapter and the Hopkins article. In both accounts, the shift seemed successful and without many external challenges once the issues were identified. The Hopkins article paints the picture of the smallpox eradication as an exemplary model of the success and effectiveness of a learning organization. It’s both encouraging and discouraging that such a large, influential organization could pull off such a seemingly smooth shift in ideology when faced with such a massive undertaking as eradicating an entire disease. The reasons for encouragement are obvious. Less established, more receptive organizations for change find it easier to adapt to new ideology because the traditional, hegemonic culture is not as ingrained. I’m sure the transition was not entirely without complication; such an expansive, diverse work area (the world!) cannot be ideal for absolute uniformity and control.

I only say it is discouraging because I have been part of organizations that are 1/10000000th (an obvious exaggeration, b/c I didn’t take time to do the math) the size of the WHO; yet these organizations are/were so ingrained with their “business as usual” mentality. Teacher turnover, student test scores, and programmatic effectiveness were constantly under par. When faculty opinions were solicited, administrators hand-picked the most senior teachers who had been  part of the older system that was trying to be replaced. Even though we were an organization whose purpose was to foster learning, we were not a “learning organization.” When student test scores were equated with lack of preparation due to faulty materials, the program administrator alone was charged with selecting the new text and materials. When the text finally arrived, a large proportion of teachers expressed dissatisfaction with the text for their specific classrooms. New books had to be reordered; had teachers been consulted on the selection of the text, this issue may have been avoided. During a beginning of school year meeting, program policies were reiterated to returning teachers and expressed to new teachers. Part of these policies were addressing all program inquiries to the assistant program coordinator before “bothering” (my words I admit, but there was a definite insinuation) the head program coordinator. If the question needed to be forwarded to the head, the assistant coordinator would do so. If we did in fact circumvent the assistant program coordinator, we would be instructed to go back. This tight control of communication, learning materials, and selective information dissemination serves as antithetical to learning organizations.

So the WHO did it and they eradicated an entire epidemic in the process. I acknowledge this was over the course of decades. However, is it that these small organizations can’t out of ignorance or wont out of sheer refusal? The eradication of small pox by the WHO challenges my initial conception of older established organizations having a harder time to switch from corporate culture to learning culture. My own experiences have proven the exact opposite in terms of the adaptability, inclusiveness, and reflection of smaller organizations.