Organizational Culture

I’ve recently been in a number of discussions regarding the concept of “organizational culture.” Organizational culture is a pattern of shared basic assumptions, values and beliefs, which a group of people has learned over time and which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, feel and act within the organization. These shared values have a strong influence on those in the organization and govern their behavior.1 “Every organization develops and maintains a unique culture, which provides guidelines and boundaries for the behavior of the members of the organization.”2

The “Iceberg Principle” (see below) says that the unseen or hidden elements of an organization’s culture—its values, beliefs and assumptions—are what drive behavior, products and practices. When a leader’s actual values (shown by what they model, how they respond to crises, what they resource, etc.) do not line up with the stated or desired values, the organizational culture will reflect the values of the leader. Trying to change policies and procedures without changing the core issue (the values), will not bring lasting change and will inevitably frustrate the team.

In Christian ministry, a healthy organizational culture is one “whose members demonstrate their real values through their behavior that is consistent with the teachings and example of Jesus.”3

I find the “Iceberg Principle” a great reminder that if I want to see behavior that is consistent with who Christ calls us to be, I have to make sure that my actual values are a reflection of His values and character. The values that I model to those in my ministry will be the values that they will incorporate into their values and behavior—not the stated values of the ministry. And I can’t just make surface changes through policies and practices without first looking at our actual values. It’s challenging and humbling to realize the amount of power leaders have to influence values and behavior.


1 Based on Nicoll, Peter. “Org Culture Model 2014.” PDF file. & McLaughlin, John. “What is Organizational Culture? – Definition & Characteristics.” Accessed 9 June 2015.

2 McLaughlin, John. “What is Organizational Culture? – Definition & Characteristics.” Accessed 9 June 2015.

3 Sessoms, Rick and Colin Buckland. Culture Craft. 2006. p6.

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