Organizational Subcultures: Creation and Importance

Parallel to official organization culture many companies also can have subcultures that are naturally created by its employees.

There even exists a pluralist perspective on subcultures in companies, saying that the culture in organizations mostly are not monolith but rather many subcultures along with dominant and official culture.

In this article read about organizational subcultures, what impact them and why they are important to organization.

What affects the creation of subcultures?

All the following aspects – social, organizational and individual characteristics can promote creation of subcultures.

Subcultures form in organization’s separate departments and different geographic locations. For example, the manufacturing organization “X” can have individual subcultures in various departments, for example: production department, design department, development and marketing department.

Boisnier and Chatman have compiled the factors that promote creation of subcultures: organizational size, task differentiation, power centrality, and demographic composition. Maanen and Barley have identified segmentation, importation, technological innovation and ideological differentiation as the impacting factors. 

Individual’s values have an important role here too. According to Roger Schwarz organizational psychologist, each subculture has their own behavior, norms, processes and structures. And individuals come into the organization with their own viewpoint.

Also interpersonal and regular interaction, unique values and work sharing in work groups promote formation of subcultures. 

Why do subcultures and awareness of them matter for organization?

Firstly, the perceptions regarding subcultures are related to employee commitment to the organization, according to lumenlearning.

Secondly, managers can create, change and vitalize an organization’s values, strategies and plans only after understanding these subcultures, participant’s values. For example, by including aspects of employees’ national culture in daily management. Ann Holland, Organization development consultant wrote that employees’ own national and ethnic culture may even have a bigger impact on them than organization’s culture itself. And Leonard Onyiriuba wrote that subcultures might have even stronger impact on employees’ behavior than the dominant culture.

Thirdly, participation in a group with shared work and values form and improve feelings of belonging, according to Ann Holland. The sense of belonging fosters employees’ engagement and sense of purpose in their everyday job. And a part of employees also feel the belonging to their subculture constantly.  85% of participants in research unanimously indicated they belonged to the shipboard worker subculture when identifying themselves in a non-work environment.

Furthermore, awareness of subcultures helps leaders and managers to lead employees in a greater way and more effectively communicate the values. 

Plus, diverse and inclusive cultures in organization boost productivity, innovation, engagement, satisfaction, collaboration, wrote Michael Schneider, human capital specialist. The McKinsey team has examined that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to gain financial returns above their respective national industry medians, and companies with higher  ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to reach the financial returns.

In summary, subcultures don’t affect the organizational functions negatively (if they aren’t contra sub-units) and by respecting and evaluating them, companies can gain trust and improve their culture. 

Suela Gerdhe described the interaction between organizational culture and subculture: “the subcultures are viewed by management as representing tolerated deviations that do not disrupt the normative solidarity of the overall corporate culture’s dominant values.”

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