Multi-focal Views of Organisational Culture

Organisational Culture – Part 2

Gaze Awareness

In sociology, critical theory, and psychoanalysis, ‘the gaze‘ refers to the awareness and perception an individual or group has of other individuals, other groups or themselves.

In literary criticism, for example, the gaze of the writer and the gaze of the reader are often the subject of comment. We recognise that different points of view offer qualitatively different perspectives on what is happening in a storyline and what it means.

In postmodernist and post-structuralist terms, truth is relative and depends on the filters and perceptions of the perceiver. Postmodernism is highly sceptical of explanations that claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truth of each person. Post-structuralism seeks to go beyond the structuralism of theories that imply a rigid inner logic to relationships that describe any aspect of social reality. In governance terms, the view from the boardroom is only one of a number of valid views.

Organisational culture lenses

Similar observations can be made about the various lenses brought to bear on ‘organisational culture’ and ‘organisational behaviour’. (I tend to use these terms interchangeably, reflecting an underlying belief that “by their deeds you will know them”). Depending on the context, and the skills, knowledge, and worldviews of the players, an entirely different analysis of an organisation’s culture will be generated.

Leaving aside, for now, the differences which result from the personalities, sectors, and roles involved, and restricting our gaze to the formal dimensions in which cultural analysis is conducted, I found an article by iEduNote on the 6 contributing disciplines to the organisational behaviour field offered useful insights.

As illustrated in the animated header image, they identify the following disciplines as the key lenses of analysis:

  • Psychology – the study of mind and behaviour, including the study of conscious and unconscious phenomena
  • Anthropology – the study of the relationships between human beings and their environment
  • Sociology – the study of social systems, their interactions, and the processes that preserve and change them
  • Social Psychology – the study of social interactions and cognition, including their origins and their effects on the individual
  • Political Science – the study of the behaviour of individuals and groups within a political environment
  • Economics – the study of the satisfaction of needs and wants through the allocation of scarce resources which have alternative uses.

The governance lens has been added to these six disciplines, to acknowledge the board’s obligation to address both the performance and conformance aspects of the organisation’s operations.

Avoiding ‘narrow’ gaze

Each of these seven lenses offers valuable perspectives which can help directors and managers to better understand what is happening within their organisational culture and why.

No one of these disciplines alone will necessarily identify measures that can assist with cultural improvements – or reformation in some cases – required for your organisation. In various combinations, however, they may reduce the risk of too narrow a gaze, leading to either superficial measures which fail to address deeper or enduring issues, or the adoption of measures that misfire entirely.

Transdisciplinary cultural review

In research, the distinction between multi-disciplinary and transdisciplinary studies is understood. As illustrated in the chart below, multi-disciplinary studies involve faculty members from different disciplines working independently on a common problem or research question. Transdisciplinary studies actively involve researchers from multiple disciplines, often also including stakeholders, in a shared process of defining and solving problems.

Sharing the process of defining the cultural problem (accommodating relational gaze), and then jointly setting about solving it offers a much greater likelihood of delivering the shifts in assumptions and beliefs which will address poor or under-performing behaviour for your organisation.

Defining and solving the cultural problem in the boardroom without engaging stakeholders is pretty much guaranteed to fail. The key exception to that would perhaps be where the problem in question relates to the relationships between (and behaviour of) the directors themselves.

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