978-1319052348 Chapter 5

Document Type
Homework Help
Book Title
Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint 8th Edition
Angela Trethewey, Eric M. Eisenberg, Marianne LeGreco
Cultural Studies of Organizations and Communication
This chapter introduces the cultural metaphor for studying organizations, an approach that brings the symbolic
life of an organization to the forefront. The cultural perspective, like systems thinking, emerged as a reaction to
a variety of social, historical, and political issues. Based heavily on anthropological concepts and methodolo-
gies, cultural studies of organizations focus on the meaningful orders of people and things within organizations.
This approach provides a way of viewing organizations through the language of the workplace, the formal and
informal practices that make organizations unique, and the interpretations of the meanings of these symbolic
constructions. In doing so, Chapter 5 addresses three approaches to cultural studies of organizations: the practi-
cal view, the interpretive view, and the critical and postmodern views. Moreover, this chapter introduces the
concept of socialization as an important process in the embodiment of organizational culture. The chapter de-
scribes the historical, methodological, and practical motivations for the cultural approach to organizations as
well as provides a summary of the characteristics that are shared by the theories of organizational culture. Final-
ly, Chapter 5 offers insight into new directions within the study of organizational socialization.
Provide a basic definition of culture and organizational culture.
Discuss why culture is considered to be a symbolic construction and what that assumption means for
those who study organizational culture.
Describe the social trends and historical events that contributed to the rise of organizational culture as a
research focus.
Discuss ethnography as a prevalent method of studying culture, the three general types of ethnographic
study, and the benefits of using ethnographies to gather information about organizational culture.
Explain how global changes in society and business provide practical reasons to better understand and
evaluate the culture and communication within organizations.
Discuss the work of Ouchi, Peters, and Waterman, along with the benefits and flaws of “engineering”
strong organizational cultures.
Provide a basic definition of each of the three views of organizational culture, an overview of the as-
sumptions held by each view, and information about the type of research findings that have emerged
from each perspective.
Describe the five main characteristics that theories of organizational culture have in common.
Organizational communication students generally like the cultural approach because it seems less theoretical
and more practical. Students need to understand organizations and culture as human symbolic constructions.
Throughout class, it is imperative to tie textbook theory to studentsactual experiences. Instructors can make
this chapter come alive by encouraging students to study their own organizations. Students can analyze their
clubs, teams, and social groups. Also, when discussing organizational narratives, encourage students to share
work experiences. Ask students what these stories taught them about the culture of that organization.
Exercise 1
Ask students to take ten minutes to write individual accounts of the classroom culture. Next, put them into small
groups to share their accounts. Most likely there will be some aspects of the accounts that are very different and
some that are very similar. Ask the class to determine which one is the “correct” or “most accurate” account. As
you discuss the fact that there is no such thing as one “correct” account, you can mention the kinds
of factors (e.g., gender, race, age, background, prior experience) that influence the way we view culture. How
might these influential factors also affect the role of participant observer within another organization? Relate
this to methods of ethnographic research in which many stories may be needed to avoid the bias of one narrator.
Exercise 2
Look at the What Would You Do? box titled Shooting Employees with Motivation.Lead a class discussion
about some of the issues that arise in the process of interpreting culture. This is a good time to have students
consider some of the ethical and motivational concerns that may arise when trying to analyze an organizational
culture. Have the class read the section and discuss the process of manipulating the brain in order to motivate
employees. Take each one of the questions that are proposed at the end of the section and ask for student re-
sponses. (This assignment would also work well as an addition to student journals.)
Exercise 3
This is a good short exercise if you do not have much time but want to promote some class participation. Take a
few moments to brainstorm a list of metaphors used to describe organizational cultures. Ask students to reflect
on their own organizational experiences in order to generate this list. Metaphors such as “team” and “family”
are popular responses. Encourage students to think beyond these metaphors in order to generate new ideas about
organizational culture.
Exercise 4
If you have a little more time, direct students to go on a scavenger hunt around campus. Divide the students into
small groups, making sure that each group has a student with a cell phone that can take and e-mail pictures. In-
struct students to walk around campus and take pictures of organizational rituals, heroes and heroines, meta-
phors, and other elements of culture outlined in Chapter 5. Ask your students to e-mail copies of the pictures to
you. Share those pictures with students during the following class period, and engage in a discussion about the
cultural elements of your college or university.
Exercise 5
The Everyday Organizational Communication box titled “College Radio and Community Socialization” pro-
vides some nice opportunities for students to make connections between the concepts in the text and their own
campuses. Even if students are using this book in a context without a campus, or even a radio station, they can
still make connections between local resources and socialization practices. Ask students to think about how col-
lege radio stations might embody concepts such as manufactured consent, dissent, and resistance all at the same
Exercise 6
Direct students to review the company cultures listed in the online resources below (Zappos and Google). Cre-
ate an imaginary start-up company with your students by listing corporate culture statements. Ask students to
evaluate these culture statements to see if they are realistic and support a balance between constraint and crea-
Taking exercises online: Many of these suggested exercises can be made digital for those teaching hybrid or
online classes. Simply conduct discussions on your online forum, discussion boards, or course management
systems. In particular, Exercises 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 lend themselves to this conversion.
Connected, But Alone? (2012, 19:48 minutes, Not Rated) (https://youtu.be/t7Xr3AsBEK4)). Sherry Turkle ex-
plains how devices and life on the Internet redefine human and organizational communication. This TED talk
focuses on the impact of advanced communication technologies on our culture and communities. Although
technologies have the opportunity to bring us together, they also produce an interpersonal distance in some of
our organizational communication practices. Ask students to consider how technology can have negative impli-
cations for our culture and communities.
Craigslist Joe (2012, 90 minutes, Not Rated). This documentary follows one individual who wanted to see if
America’s sense of community was still alive in the midst of a significant economic downturn. He set out to live
solely on the support that he could find through Craigslist. This documentary challenges your students to think
about the connection between community and culture, particularly as it relates to using resources like Craigslist.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006, 110 minutes, Rated PG-13). Miranda Priestly controls the corporate culture of
her fashion magazine. Consider why people are so afraid to disappoint her. How does Miranda identify people?
How does her management style contribute to the organizational culture?
TV-14). Both of these episodes are considered to be some of the highest rated from this award-winning work-
place comedy. Either episode provides a nice illustration of organizational culture concepts, including meta-
phors, rituals, and heroes/heroines.
Scrubs: “My Life in Four Cameras” (2005, Season 4, Episode 17, 22 minutes, Rated TV-PG). A hospital serves
as an organizational backdrop for this workplace comedy. In this episode, the relationship between culture and
organization is explored in some interesting ways when the staff discovers that their patient is a famous comedy
Spotlight (2015, 129 minutes, Rated R). This Academy Awardwinning movie chronicles the work of the
Boston Globe’s investigative journalist team, Spotlight, as they uncover the culture of secrecy in the Catholic
Church. This movie has many illustrations about organizational communication. The dialogue among the
Spotlight team members and with those investigated is used in the movie to define the organizational
communication structure in the Church. The organizational communication structure of the Catholic Church
could be an active discussion point among students.
Ugly Betty: “The Box and the Bunny” (2006, Season 1, Episode 2, 43 minutes, Rated TV-PG). This comedy
focuses on an “ugly duckling” who often serves as a heroine in her fashion magazine workplace. This episode
provides some interesting examples of stories, rituals, artifacts, and performances when Betty accidentally loses
“the book” (the rough cut of the magazine’s next edition).
Behind the Southwest Airlines Culture (http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenmakovsky/2013/11/21/behind-the-
southwest-airlines-culture/#7530bdff3fb9). Look for the secret of this airlines success. Forbes magazine online
interviewed Ginger Hardage, chief communications officer of Southwest Airlines, about the company’s successful
culture. View the company’s blog, Nuts about Southwest (available at http://www.blogsouthwest.com/blogsw/),
for examples of that culture.
The Real Secret of Google’s Corporate Culture (https://www.corporateculturepros.com/the-real-secret-of-googles-
corporate-culture/). Google is one of the top-cited examples of innovative corporate culture. This webpage has the
Google’s Culture Infographic. Have your students glean information from this website.
20 Ways Zappos Reinforces Its Company Culture
This article describes the hiring practice as part of the corporate culture. It also lists the ten core values of
corporate culture.
Zappos Insights Company Culture Book (https://www.zapposinsights.com/culture-book). Students can download a
PDF version of the Zappos Culture Book. Zappos states on its website that the book is a collage of unedited
submissions from employees within the Zappos Family of companies. . . . A new version is created each year and
it reflects the true feelings, thoughts and opinions of the employees.”
Define culture. Explain what is meant by culture as a symbolic construction. How does this have an
impact on the study of organizational culture?
What are the differences in viewing organizations as cultures instead of systems? In what ways are the
approaches similar?
What kinds of social, historical, and practical events and changes motivated the rise of the cultural met-
aphor for organizations?
What is ethnography? What are the three main types of ethnographic accounts? How is methodology
useful in studying organizational cultures? What are some of the limitations that ethnographers face?
What is meant by a strong organizational culture? What kinds of characteristics do these organizations
embody? What are the perceived advantages and disadvantages of engineering a strong
Describe each of the three approaches to organizational culture. Compare and contrast the major char-
acteristics of these views.
What are the main characteristics that theories of organizational culture have in common?
Outline new directions in organizational socializations. How have things changed over the past several
What are the macro-, meso-, and micro-level factors that may impact an individual’s ability to use or-
ganizational socialization to understand and become a part of organizational culture(s)?
organizational culture The actions, ways of thinking, practices, stories, and artifacts that
characterize a particular organization.
metaphor A figure of speech that defines an unfamiliar experience in terms of
another, more familiar, one.
ritual A practice that “dramatizes” a culture’s basic values and can range in
scope from an everyday routine to a more unique
story A narrative that communicates whom and what the culture values,
how things are to be done, the consequences for cultural compliance
or deviation, and the role and meaning of leadership in the organiza-
artifact A tangible and physical feature of an organization.
hero and heroine A member of an organization who is held up as a role model because
he or she embodies and personifies cultural values.
performance Dynamic, ongoing, and creative communication behavior that works
to construct culture.
value A shared belief about organizational behaviors.
Theory Z A perspective on organizations that suggests the survival and pros-
perity of organizations depend heavily on their ability to adapt to sur-
rounding cultures.
ethnography A methodology for studying culture, rooted in anthropology, that
requires the researcher to experience the culture firsthand and then
recount his or her reflections on the experiences of the members of
the culture.
practical view A view of organizational culture that responds to management’s de-
sire for increased competitiveness and employee satisfaction.
interpretive view A view of organizational culture that is emergent and socially con-
structed in members’ daily communication behaviors.
critical and postmodern views Views of organizational culture that focus on challenges to power
relationships and the status quo.
integration perspective Portrays culture in terms of consistency and clarity.
differentiation perspective Portrays cultural manifestations as largely inconsistent with one an-
fragmentation perspective Portrays ambiguity as an inevitable and pervasive aspect of contem-
porary life.
socialization A process by which new members learn about and make sense of an
organization’s culture.
anticipatory socialization The socialization processes that lead up to participation in an organi-
zation. Vocational socialization occurs earlier in life and deals with
learning about work and careers in general. Organizational socializa-
tion occurs later in life and deals with learning about specific jobs
and organizations.
organizational assimilation A process involving surprise and sense making as members learn
more about an organization, experience violated expectations, and
grow to understand their role.
high-reliability organization (HRO) An organization, such as a fire station or nuclear power plant, that
involves dangerous conditions and requires highly technical sociali-
zation efforts.
Advanced communication and Newer, nontraditional forms of socialization, such as websites,
information technology (ACIT) instant messaging, and smartphones.
Introduce the cultural approach. Define culture, and explain the relevance of studying organizations.
Define organizational culture, and explain how subcultures may emerge even within that culture.
How is the study of organizations achieved by interpreting the meanings of symbolic constructions, and
what are the assumptions that are required to view organizations in this way?
If there is a strong cultural basis for organizational life, then what are the elements of culture?
Explain how changes in the business climate, particularly the increase of competitive pressure, provided
practical motivations for the development of the cultural approach.
Discuss how the “interpretive turn” led to the ethnographic method of studying organizations. Empha-
size the benefits of ethnographic research and the differences between interpretive and scientific studies
of organizations.
Discuss how the cultural approach of studying organizations was heavily inspired by social and methodo-
logical reasons.
Distinguish the similarities and differences between the practical, interpretive, and critical and postmod-
ern views of organizational culture. Clarify the important contributions made by each approach as well
as the individuals who made those contributions.
Provide an overview of socialization research and the material consequences of organization.
Summarize the characteristics of organizational culture research.
Remind students that because the definition of culture itself is so diverse, the treatment of communication
in culture literature is also varied.
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