Dimensions of Culture
in Organizations
To explore how organizational culture and national culture are similar and different
To make participants aware of how the differences impact both individuals and the
organization itself
Researchers have been interested in the characteristics of national cultures for a long time
and have come up with descriptors for cultures that allow us to compare the norms of various
cultures. More recent research and the experience of practitioners show that general dimen-
sions of culture can apply to any identifiable culture: national, geographic, gender, racial,
organizational, etc. This exercise deals with four dimensions of culture: power, relationships,
time, and communication. These dimensions are present in every micro and macro organiza-
tional unit. For example, they are present in the family unit, community groups, office units,
business units, geographic areas, and nations. Therefore, these four dimensions can be used
in any context to identify common threads in a culture and to compare cultures.
This is an individual and large-group exercise for employees of a global company working in
their native country; the company’s corporate headquarters are in another country, and the
company’s culture is dominated by the local culture. The audience will identify and compare
their national culture with the culture of the organization.
60 to 90 minutes
Flipcharts and markers for the small groups
Handout 1, “It’s About Culture,” for each participant
Worksheet, “Exploring the Dimensions of Culture,” for each participant
1. Set up the exercise with an introductory mini-lecture.
“When we are exposed to another culture, we first observe its surface behaviors—how
people greet each other, whether or not they are on time for meetings, and if they are
comfortable talking about themselves, etc. We rely on spoken communication and overt
behaviors. To understand how to interpret these behaviors appropriately, we must under-
stand the underlying values. When we work with individuals from another culture, we tend
to judge them from the perspective of our own culture, which leads to misinterpretation
about their behavior and intentions. This can result in ineffective relationships. Let’s look
at culture and some of the ways it works.” Distribute Handout 1 and review it with them.
2. Individual work
Instruct the participants to use the worksheet to reflect on each dimension. Make notes on
the matrix to show how that dimension is reflected in the organization’s culture and in the
national culture.
3. Small-group work
Assign one dimension (power, relationship, time, or communications) to each of four
small groups for discussion. Each group is to complete the chart, providing descriptions of
the organization culture, the national culture, and the impact of difference for the assigned
dimension. Encourage each group to create a flipchart that reflects their discussion.
4. Large-group discussion
Each group presents its results.
Conduct a large-group discussion of these and any other issues that surface for the
The comfort-factor when there are similarities
The stress and difficulties that are presented when there are differences
The impact on the individual and organization
Ask the group to reflect briefly on ways they might influence the organization culture to
create a more mutually acceptable and effective culture. This activity usually generates a
discussion that is quite lively and rich. Most of us do not take the time to reflect on our own
culture or attempt to understand the impact when cultures clash or are mismatched. Identi-
fication and understanding are the first steps of organizational change.
This exercise can be adapted to a variety of settings:
More than one national culture working within an organization
Differing impacts, such as gender and race
Long-term organization facing new market challenges but still operating under norms
entrenched in the past
The steps would be the same, but you would need to adapt the headings on the worksheet.

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