How to Bridge the Cultural Divide

Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Entrepreneurship, Non-Profit

I’ve been talking to social entrepreneurs about the variety of performance challenges they face. Recently, I wrote about the cultural chasm that can exist in a social enterprise–on one side of the chasm are the non-profit folks. They’re focused on altruistic, communitarian values. On the other side of the chasm are the business folks. They’re focused on the bottom-line.

How to help a social enterprise bring these two essential cultures of the social enterprise  world together?

In my previous post on this problem, I cited Dr. Joanne Martin of Stanford University, as an excellent source of information on how to bridge the culture gap.

Here’s what Dr. Martin does, when she is consulting with an organization that is experiencing culture gaps:

One exercise I use is to ask organizational members to divide themselves into groups of 5-9 individuals. These may represent subcultures, or at least people who have something in common. Have each group choose a leader, ideally not the highest status person. Ask the group members to tell stories about that illustrate what it is like to work in the organization (behavior, not espoused values), and then to say what the moral of each story is, what it shows about the culture. You may find it useful to require that the story does not focus on the story teller. No need to name story protagonists. Ask each group to report to the whole gathering aloud, their best two (most representative of the culture or cultures they see) stories with morals. You as discussion leader write up just the morals after each story; these are content themes that describe the culture–enacted values. Themes that surface in several groups may be organization wide and themes that are unique to just one or two groups may be unique to a subculture. The fragmentation perspective will help you lead a discussion that does not oversimplify the views expressed, including ironies, contradictions, and the ambiguities that come out of living with conflicts. Be acutely aware of status dynamics in opinions and group process. What you should have as takeaway is a list of content themes for the entire culture and separate lists of content themes for one or two subcultures. The tensions between communitarian and bureaucratic views may be pervasive in all of this, not two clearly defined alternatives. Use their terminology, not yours, to reduce resistance. Take this slowly, about six hours of work in groups and then gathering as a whole. The resulting stories and morals can be written down in a story book and used as a basis for change plans (the negative stories) and socializing new employees (the positive stories).

Some resources Dr. Martin offered include:

Martin, J. and Siehl, C. “Organizational Culture and Counter Culture:  An Uneasy Symbiosis.” Organizational Dynamics, Fall, 1983, 52-64.

Martin, J. “Organizational Culture: Pieces of the Puzzle.” In J. M. Shafritz, J. S. Ott, Y. S. Jang, (Eds.), Classics of Organizational Theory, Sixth edition, Wadsworth Publishing, 2005, pp. 393-414.

 Organizational Culture: Mapping the Terrain, J. Martin. Invited Volume in the Foundations for Organizational Sciences Series, Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 2002, second printing 2003.

Reframing Organizational Cultures.  P. Frost, L. Moore, M. Louis, C. Lundberg and

J. Martin (Eds.).  Newbury Park, CA:  Sage, 1991, eighth printing 1998.

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