In an ever changing business environment organisations need to be able to respond in order to survive and develop. Often the difference between success and failure can be attributed to how well an organisation’s culture is understood and whether, as the operating environment shifts, it helps or hinders the organisation’s ability to adapt and change.

Organisational culture, or corporate culture, comprises the rites, attitudes, experiences, artefacts, myths, symbols, language, beliefs and values of an organisation. Edgar Shein’s definition is one that is widely used and respected:

“A pattern of assumptions, invented, discovered, or developed by a given group, as it learns to cope with the problem of external adaption and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, be taught to new members, as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel to these problems.”¹

Organisational culture can be strong or weak – a strong culture may not be a good culture and it may be resistant to change. Leaders that are aware of the power of culture realise that when new initiatives are being introduced the strength and style of their culture cab actually support the change efforts or work against them as a barrier. A Henley Management College survey of FTS 100 organisations concluded that 80% of organisational culture is attributable to leadership behaviours, and that 60% of organisational performance is attributable to that organisation’s culture, and therefore leadership is important to organisational success.

At TGB we have experience of working with organisations to better understand their cultures and to either maintain them or change them so as to be in alignment with any new strategic direction. What follows is an example of a recent piece of work focussing on how personal leadership impacts on organisational culture.

During 2008-2009 TBG was commissioned by County Durham Primary Care Trust and Darlington PCT to undertake a ‘cultural audit’. This was done at both the beginning and the end of a transformational change initiative focusing on building capacity and capability. A coaching centred development programme was undertaken by 35 senior clinicians and managers. There was strategic linkage to identified organizational projects and drew on LEAN thinking principles and methodology to assess behaviours and attitudes against the identified desirable culture for the organisation. It was designed as a facilitative, qualitative process to support and enhance the learning experience of the programme.

The well established link between Leadership, Culture and Performance was presented at the initial meetings with participants acknowledging the inherent linkage between Changing Behaviour, Changing Thinking and Changing Culture. This qualitative evaluation was identified as an opportunity to gather a base line audit of more generic leadership behaviours, styles, attitudes and perceptions, i.e. culture.

Whilst it is acknowledged that coaching is only one of many interventions that can influence the culture of an organization, and thus hard to make causal claims on its impact, this evaluative process offered an opportunity to benchmark and assess that culture, whilst producing intelligence for the organization to inform future areas for the development of a positive and effective culture with the associated high performance outcomes.

The format was: confidential conversations with each participant over the year and experiential workshop sessions. The review was produced as an extensive report for the organisation.

The identified and agreed areas of focus were:

Leading with focus Corporate-ness – the organisation and the Health Community
Celebrating success – in teams and in the organisation Leadership in the organisation
Managing risk as part of learning Managing difference and conflict
Communication and feedback Effective relationships and performance
Facilitating the conditions for innovation Patient-centred service transformation

For organisations with a multi-cultural workforce, “Understanding your own culture, learning about the cultures of those you will be interacting with, and then recognising where you are similar and where it might be wise to adapt your behaviour is a key skill to help you get over the barriers and smooth the way so that you can do your work and enjoy relationships with people who are different from you.”²

In our work with organisations with a multi-cultural workforce we have drawn on the work of Geert Hofstede, Fons Trompenaars, Philippe Rosinski, Charlene Solomon and Michael Schell all of whom in one way or another identify a number of distinct characteristics commonly referred to as cultural dimensions.

Hierarchy versus Egalitarianism

The way people view authority and power, how much they defer to people in authority, whether they feel entitled to express themselves, and how empowered they feel to make independent decisions and take the initiative.

Group Focus

Whether people see accomplishments and responsibility as achieved through individual effort or collective effort and whether they identify themselves as individuals or as members of a group.


The importance and time devoted to building relationships and developing trust and whether trust and relationships are viewed as a prerequisite for working with someone.

Communications Styles

The way societies communicate, including the use of verbal and nonverbal expression, the amount of background information people need for understanding, and how (bluntly) or indirectly people speak. It also refers to whether brevity or detail is valued in a communication.

Time Orientation

The degree to which people believe they can control time and adhere to schedules or whether schedules are seen as deadlines or estimates. It also includes whether schedules or people are more important.

Change Tolerance

The perception of how much control people think they have over their lives and destiny and their comfort with change, risk taking, and innovation.

Motivation versus Work-Life Balance

Whether people work to live or live to work, whether they can achieve status in a society by trading personal time for the opportunity to advance.³

Another way of exploring culture we have found very useful when working with clients is Milton Bennett’s developmental model of intercultural sensitivity.4 (see resources on the website for a summary of the model).

TBG has also worked with the following organisations addressing cross-cultural issues which either just cross professional boundaries or which cross both professional and national boundaries.

  • Designing and delivering workshops for Local Ethics Committees to support and challenge them in developing a team approach. The membership of these committees is drawn from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds.
  • Recent contributions to multi-cultural interpersonal skills programmes for auditors at the Dutch logistics company TNT and to a cross-functional and multi-cultural high flyers programme for the Italian Insurance company Generali.
  • Working with the international Dutch based ING Bank, in conjunction with Trinity College Dublin and the ING Business School, delivering leadership programmes with cross-cultural senior managers, developing their skills to drive and deliver new ways of working in a culturally diverse and fast changing environment.
  • Working with an international company in Yemen to collaboratively align an international organisational culture with the Yemen workforce in their context and culture (see full case study on the website).
  1. Organisational Culture and Leadership, Edgar Schein, Jossey-Bass, 2004
  2. Managing Across Cultures, Charlene Solomon & Michael Schell, McGraw Hill, 2009
  3. Ibid
  4. Towards a Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity, Milton Bennett, in Education for Intercultural Experience, Michael Page, Intercultural Press, 1993