How Meetings Reveal a Company’s True Culture: A Deep Dive into Organizational Dynamics

How Meetings Reveal a Company’s True Culture: A Deep Dive into Organizational Dynamics

A meeting can unveil the leadership style of a business leader and the culture of an organization. For instance, democratic-style leaders prefer using meetings to discuss matters, while authoritative-style leaders tend to use meetings to announce decisions. Even when entering an empty meeting room, we can discern traces of organizational culture through the furnishings and the arrangement of the environment.

The duration of meetings, their structure (problem-solving and decision-making), content (critical events discussed), and meeting etiquette (punctuality, dress code, etc.) all manifest the organizational culture.

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Organizational culture is akin to the personality of a business. Personality is an individual’s perception of the environment and their patterns of response to environmental changes. Organizational culture is an organization’s perception of the environment and its patterns of response to environmental changes. Differences in corporate culture are evident in the varying perceptions and reaction speeds of leaders and employees to their environment.

Both the form and content of meetings can reflect this sensitivity. Meetings where subordinates freely voice their opinions in the presence of leaders indicate smooth upward communication and signify the organization’s sensitivity to environmental changes. Organizations with a heightened sensitivity to environmental changes often use the latest PEST (Political, Economic, Social, Technological) terminology in their meeting discourse.

Meetings Under Four Types of Cultures

Scholars Cameron and Freeman categorize organizational culture into four types based on whether the business emphasizes internal or external focus and flexibility:

  1. Clan Culture: Emphasizes flexibility and an internal focus.
  2. Adhocracy Culture: Emphasizes flexibility and an external focus.
  3. Market Culture: Emphasizes control and an external focus.
  4. Hierarchy Culture: Emphasizes control and an internal focus.

Characteristics of Clan Culture Meetings

Leaders wield immense influence in Clan Culture meetings. They primarily focus their speeches on the company’s vision, mission, core values, and strategies. Their storytelling approach is highly inspirational and emotionally engaging. Since spontaneous content is prevalent, visual and audio aids are used sparingly.

An exemplary illustration of Clan Culture is the Apple Inc. during the era of Steve Jobs, even though it exhibited characteristics of an Adhocracy Culture as well. Steve Jobs was known for his tardiness in meetings, making everyone wait for his arrival. He often began meetings with profanity-laden language. Faced with this charismatic leader, attendees had no choice but to revere him.

Characteristics of Adhocracy Culture Meetings

Attendees dress casually, with little regard for formalities. They speak without observing hierarchical orders, engage in divergent thinking, and brainstorm ideas. Visual and audio aids, especially whiteboards, are commonly used. Management guru Henry Mintzberg advocates the concept of adhocracy as a management philosophy. He believes that flexible organizations, representing the future of management, excel at problem-solving, innovation, and are more adaptable in changing environments.

Real-life examples of flexible organizations include property developers and management consulting firms. These businesses often adopt project-based organizational models. Some large manufacturing companies also employ project teams to maintain agility.

IBM, which once suffered from bureaucracy, is an example of this transformation. In an effort to change IBM’s bureaucratic culture, Louis V. Gerstner Jr. advocated a business casual dress code.

Characteristics of Market Culture Meetings

Attendees may sometimes chant slogans, make pledges, and frequently use charts and graphs in presentations to demonstrate goal achievements, market share, and competitive analyses. Meeting durations are tightly controlled. Deviating from target-related topics is discouraged, and participants often inquire whether a particular issue is actionable.

In this culture, only issues that can be resolved are considered problems. Developing action plans is a key focus of meetings in such organizations, and tasks are often assigned with clear deadlines.

Characteristics of Hierarchy Culture Meetings

Routine meetings are common, often involving a large number of attendees, long durations, repetitive content, and unexecuted plans. Lack of execution is rarely questioned, and detailed agendas are typically provided before each meeting. Attendees dress formally, and meetings may have designated record-keepers. Meeting minutes are numbered and often archived as physical documents.

Why are there many meetings in a hierarchy culture? Because there are more people than tasks, tasks can be completed quickly, but managers are often unwilling to complete them quickly. If there is nothing to do, positions may become redundant. Therefore, the number of meetings held each week becomes a symbol of how busy a position is, and the busier a position is, the more important it seems.

Hierarchy culture often includes a typical meeting type: cross-departmental meetings. Due to strong departmentalism, conflicts between departments are common. Many processes span different departments, and one department often becomes an obstacle to another’s work. This “obstacle” is sometimes necessary, but sometimes harmful.

Hierarchy culture is characterized by strict rules and lengthy processes. The initial intention of these rules and processes is to eliminate subjective interference, improve quality, and efficiency. The core principle is impersonality, aiming for objectivity. However, due to the abundance of rules and processes, the organization’s perception and response to environmental changes are slow. The regulations and procedures in hierarchy culture are often so numerous that they cannot be remembered without documentation.

Therefore, documentation becomes essential. With an abundance of documents, even those working in the same position for a long time cannot remember them all, leading to the need for frequent reference. In hierarchy culture meetings, a significant amount of time is often spent explaining rules and processes.

Conclusion

The diversity of organizational culture cannot be fully encompassed by a few dimensions or types. Each organization’s culture is unique, but no matter how unique, you can still get a glimpse of it from the meeting room.

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