Over the last twenty years, organizational culture has become a topic of everyday conversation. To talk about the previous place where one worked as having a ‘different’ culture to the present establishment is unlikely to surprise anyone, so long as the respective organizational cultures are then distinguished through either general explanation or by giving examples. For instance, we might say that in organization A, the management-employee relationship is characterized by an ‘us and them’ culture, whereas by contrast in organization B culture is such that ‘your manager is your friend as well as the boss’.
Research studies of companies reputed to possess ‘strong’ cultures have found the employees don’t just talk about it, but their firms establish meetings and workshops on culture and culture change (Kunda, 1992; Stiles, 1999). The concept of organizational culture can, therefore, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, be considered to be part of our common sense reality, although clearly the term is a relatively recent addition to popular discourse. Indeed, references to culture, and more rarely concepts akin to ‘organizational culture’, would have tended to focus, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, on distinguishing such things as: the organization of agriculture and manufacturing labour (Carlyle, 1941; Kropotkin, 1974); or civilized and uncivilized manners and the state (Arnold, 1978; Elias, 1978a, 1978b); or class, high brow and popular taste (Williams, 1961; Hoggart, 1977; Adorno and Horkheimer, 1989).
So, given that people nowadays readily talk about organizations as having a culture, do they all possess one? Assuming further that there may exist several cultures in most organizations, will there invariably be one which is predominant? And if there is a dominant organizational culture, to what extent might it be a source of freedom on the one hand and a prison cage on the other? In this chapter, the aim throughout is to answer these questions and make some recommendations for communication practice. This is done with the conviction that people can influence their organizations to become more liberating and less constraining places than they presently are.