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It's in praise of myself, namely, FOLLY.

Praise of folly: Erasmus of Rotterdam, 1509

Organizational culture can loosely be defined as the shared assumptions, beliefs, and "normal behaviors" (norms) of a group. These are powerful influences on the way people live and act, and they define what is "normal" and how to sanction those who are not "normal." To a large degree, what we do is determined by our culture.

Organizational culture is similar to, say, regional culture. The same person in different organizations (or parts of the same organization!) would act in different ways. Culture is very powerful.


  • Reprinted with permission from J Cell Sci 112/24:4483-4484 <>

  • Are you captivated by thoughts of discovery, eager to find the cure for a disease? Do you wish to understand how the brain works or create a transgenic pig that really can fly? Are you eager to put on a white lab coat and start to make discoveries? If so, science may not be the career for you! What, discourage young scientists from joining the ranks of our august profession? It is not so much that they should be discouraged, nor that these ideals are out of place, but a reality check, a 'read the fine print' disclaimer, is required. You see, a major problem is that the budding scientist has to go through a period of training that is sort of a survival course and may end up as a test of endurance rather than a period of intellectual development.

  • How is the apprentice scientist trained? In our nurturing of a mind that will make new discoveries one day, you'd think that the apprentice would be prepared like a priest or a Jedi knight. There would be well-defined principles to learn that were determined by people who had perfected let's call it the 'art of science', and a group of selected, wise and thoughtful individuals in whose presence the apprentice would be trained. There would be training in scientific 'Method' and 'Techniques', and their application to 'Problems'. There would be a defined set of goals for completing the apprenticeship. Training to be a scientist could and should be all of those things. But, in reality, is it?

  • Upon entering gradate school, the student joins a laboratory for 3-6 years, depending on the country. Although some of graduate school is no doubt a learning experience, it is generally a form of indebted servitude. Rater than being taught by the 'Master', the student is often 'given' to a postdoc (a pet project?) to guide the apprentice in the acquisition of knowledge and technical skills necessary to a research scientist – guide, you've got to be kidding! Many students spend hours in the classroom with other students, learning some principles but generally amassing a collection of unconnected factoids. The lectures by 'Masters' are often not coordinated to build a theme. Sometimes, there is a different accent for each lecture, and often the lectures are a sort of research seminar on the lecturer's topic of research. With experience, the student is then left to his/her own devices, toiling long hours trying to get experiments to work, to understand results, to see the big picture through the forest of minutia. Where is the 'Master' to guide the student? Pick from the following: traveling to a meeting, writing a grant, reviewing someone else's grant/manuscript, teaching. Contact with the 'Master' may be in the form of a demand for data for a seminar, a grant or a manuscript. The set of goals for completing the training are often poorly, if at all, defined.

  • But let's say, for the sake of this piece, that the student successfully graduates, is not completely traumatized by their training experience and wants to continue along the track to become a scientist. Is he/she ready for independence? Possibly, but next is a generally required period of probation, usually 3-4 years, in the laboratory of a different 'Master'. Now the student begins to learn how to be an independent scientist , a future 'Master' (remember: traveling to meetings, writing a grant, reviewing someone else's grant/manuscript, teaching). But seriously, is the postdoc taught how to teach and train students? I'm sorry, I forgot, the postdoc is often given a graduate student to train — but the only experience the postdoc has of training a student is when he/she was trained by a postdoc – yikes! Are there discussions with the 'Master' about running a lab – perhaps, but usually it's training by example (remember – traveling to a meeting, writing a grant, reviewing someone else's grant/manuscript, teaching). No, generally, the postdoc is very much left to his/her own resources to develop a research project (they are already trained as a graduate student and should be able to do this by now – right?).

  • There are very few professions that invest this amount of time (6-10 years) and money (>US$ 200,000 in salary alone) to train an apprentice, but do so with relatively little forethought, guidance, or nurturing. Must it really take us six years to train a graduate student in the US? Are students trained in the UK for less than three years half as good? The answers are "No" to both of those questions. I fear that new students are less attracted to a science career. Students are not willing to be taught through an arbitrary, hodge-podge collection of classes and mentors. They are more demanding, perhaps because they do not view science as I described it above — the mystery has gone (I think it once was there, wasn't it). We are competing with other professions that students find (equally?) attractive, including biotech, various forms of law, science writing, and teaching.

  • If we do not make some changes, we may find that there will be fewer students and, subsequently, fewer postdocs, etc. We, the established scientists, will then have to change the way we perform. There will be no need to travel to give a seminar, write grants, review someone else's grant/manuscript or teach. Now wait a minute — I'm onto something here!

  • -Caveman <[email protected]>

  • Organizational Culture -- a very good set of lectures

    Conflict Prevention In The Workplace - Using Cooperative Communication

    Defusing HostileVolatile Situations (For Educators)

    Defusing Hostile Customers (For Public Sector)

    Organizational Conflict - The Good The Bad & The Ugly (article)

    Syllabus Managing Organizational Conflict Portable MBA Course

    Application of NRC's Organizational Conflict of Interest Policy

    Organizational Conflict BallTalley

    Consuming Organizational Culture

    Organizational Culture A Web Walk

    Organizational Culture

    BA 321 Principles of Management--Organizational Culture--chapter 5

    Leadership and Administration in Organization -- Sociology 516 Spring 1998

    Sociology and Organization Theory

    IDP - Sociology and Organization Behavior

    Title Page Can Organizational Culture Be Reengineered

    Organizational Culture (slides)

    Chapter 7 Organizational Climate (outline)

    Avoiding The Perverted Inverted Pyramid

    If you read from the works of virtually any recognized management guru, you will come across the notion of inverting the organization's hierarchy. The theory goes that by putting more decision-making into the hands of those closest to the "action", organizations will become faster, more adaptive and more effective. Inverting the organizational pyramid brings with it the notion of empowerment, in the service of bener organizations.   

    Well, that's the theory anyway. If you are a regular reader of our publications, you will be aware that we are firm supporters of inverting the pyramid, empowering staff, and moving responsibility and decision-making down to the people that are in contact with the recipients of government services. But, we do need to put these efforts into the context of real life, and to be aware of the pitfalls that are in our paths.   

    The truth is that many organizations begin the inverted pyramid journey, but few actually succeed in reaping the benefits of the effort. It seems that far too many organizations are developing flat tires, or simply running out of gas, far from the envisioned destination. We are going to look at ways that organizations and managers end up perverting the inverted pyramid, so that if you are on the journey, you will be less likely to fail in your efforts.   

    ...While structural incompatibilities make inverting the pyramid difficult, there are other powerful and important factors that pervert the process. Many of these, unfortunately, fall into the area of limitations, or short-comings on the part of individual managers and executives.   

    We know enough about empowerment, team development and leadership to state that empowerment and pyramid inversion require some special qualities on the part of leaders and managers. When these qualities are not sufficiently developed, the process of inverting the pyramid can become stalled. We can identify a number of such competencies or attitudes:  

    ...Further, staff in the inverted pyramid need different kinds of information, compared to those in traditional organizations. They need to know the "bigger picture" -- the goals of the organization, its purpose, and how they fit in to them. This enables their decision-making to be consistent with what the organization is trying to accomplish.   

    The Most Common Failure Pattern   

    Generally, when pyramid inversions fail, they don't do so randomly but share a common pattern Generally, there are multiple causes for the failure, usually including many or all of the above factors.   

    Usually, pyramid inversion adventures are initiated by a well meaning manager. The manager introduces the concept to staff, and may also suggest mechanisms to empower staff (eg. team structure, meetings, etc). While the manager may be enthused about the possibilities, often he or she has not thought out the implications for him/herself. Employee reactions tend to be mixed -- some will be enthusiastic, some neutral, and some cynical or resistant.   

    Within the new structure, insufficient information will be provided, and as with most changes, some frustration and confusion will result. But what separates the successful inversions from the unsuccessful ones is the ability of the players to resolve the frustration and confusion early on. Failed attempts tend to create more and more frustration, the longer the process continues.   

    Given insufficient information, and lack of core skills, employees have difficulty making decisions that are acceptable to the manager. What happens is that in most organizations, the fundamental structural incompatibilities regarding responsibility and accountability push the manager into reviewing and/or altering decisions made by staff, or rejecting many suggestions. Staff read this as being inconsistent, and lose faith in the empowerment process.   

    The final stage of collapse occurs as the manager becomes more frustrated. Initially the manager felt that empowering staff would require less involvement in everyday decisions, since these would be taken on by staff. What really happens is that everything slows down. Decisions are reviewed and re-reviewed. Workload for everyone appears to increase, rather than decrease. At this point many managers eject from the plane.   

    They begin to "take back" decision-making power, on the assumption that staff are simply incapable of making effective decisions. Sometimes this "taking-back" is subtle, and the empowerment strategy is slowly eroded until it disappears. Or, the manager simply announces that the experiment has ended. We might note that such defeats often leave the organization worse off than if they hadn't tried at all.   

    Avoiding Perverting The Inverted Pyramid  

    Such failures are often avoidable with proper preparation, and well thought out implementation strategies. We look at a few suggesions for engineering success.  

    1. Recognize that you still work within a hierarchical structure. Lobby your executive for support and changes in the ways they interact with you. Further, when introducing your initiative to staff, indicate that there will be limits on what can be accomplished. In other words, don't create expectations that can't be fulfilled.  

    2. Provide empowered staff with the tools they need to take on their new responsibilities. Be prepared, at least initially, to coach and support, or to bring in help from outside. Do not assume that staff will "figure it out".  

    3. Persevere. These changes take time, and if you expect changes to occur too quickly, you may give up too early.  

    4. Be as consistent as possible. The more often you take over the reins of a decision, the less likely staff will perceive you as being sincere. When you absolutely must make decisions without involving staff, explain why it was necessary.  

    5. Make sure that frequent ~checks" are made to see how the process is going. Don't just leave it. Encourage staff to assess and evaluate how the changes are going, and to make suggestions about how to improve it. Make it clear you don't expect everything to be perfect, but the goal is to improve continuously.  

    6. Realistically assess your management style and interpersonal skills. Even your non-verbal behaviour can derail a pyramid inversion. Be aware of subtle messages you may be sending.  

    7. Listen! In the inverted pyramid, the managers listen more than they talk. if nobody wants to talk to you, then search out the causes and fix them.   

    c Robert Bacal, 1994



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