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Organizational Psychology – Organizational Culture and Climate

Answers the Question

How are Organizational Culture and Organizational Climate inter-related?

How it Began

Organizational culture and climate focus on how those participating within and with an organization observe, experience, and make sense of their work environment (Schneider, Ehrhart & Macey, 2011).  In regards to Organizational Psychology Climate and Culture are considered to be fundamental building blocks for describing and analyzing organizational phenomena (Schein, 2000). 

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Historically, climate, as a construct preceded culture. The social context of the work environ- ment, termed “atmosphere,” was discussed as early as 1910 (Hollingworth & Poffenberger, 1917; Munsterberg, 1915; Scott, 1911), and was investigated in the UK during the 1930s by the National Institute of Industrial Psychology (NIIP). The 1960s introduced Climate as a theoretical concept proposed by Kurt Lewin (Lewin, 1951; Lewin, Lippitt, & White, 1939). As early as the 1930s cultural perspectives within organizations were examined however, it was not popularized in management literature until the 1980s.

Academically culture and climate are viewed as two complementary constructs that reveal overlapping yet distinguishable nuances in the psychological life of organizations (Schneider, 2000). Each is deserving of attention as a separate construct as well as attention to the relationship between the two constructs.

Key Terminology

Culture – the set of ideas, behaviours, attitudes, and traditions that exist within large groups of people (usually of a common religion, family, or something similar).

Climate – the process of quantifying the “culture” of an organization; a set of properties of the work environment, perceived directly or indirectly by the employees, that is assumed to be a major force in influencing employee behaviour

In Brief

While climate is about perceptions of what happens or what people experience, culture helps define why these things happen. Meanwhile, Culture relates to fundamental ideologies and assumptions which are based on a symbolic interpretation of organizational events and artifacts. Culture evolves collectively within the historical context of the organization and is embedded in systems, and resists attempts to change it.

Climate is less stable and more immediate than culture. Upon entering an organization individuals perceive the climate through how the organization looks, emotions and attitudes of employees and the treatment the individual receives. When individuals perceptions become shared, a higher-level social construct emerges.

Climate develops from the deeper core of culture. Climate, or “what,” organizational experience can result from shared values and assumptions based on policies, practices, and as such, their integration can be accomplished by viewing climate as the lens through which the deep cultural layers can be understood.

What does this Mean for Organization Development?

Practices, policies, procedures, and routines play a role in both culture and climate. They are viewed as artifacts in culture and form climate perceptions therefore the organizational practices, management practices, policies, and procedures reflect cultural influences.

Climate perceptions provide employees with direction and orientation about where they should focus their skills, attitudes, and behaviours in pursuit of organizational goals. Alignment between culture, practices, and climate is necessary for employees to respond and behave in ways that will lead to organizational effectiveness.

For an organization to be effective, rganizational members must perceive the practices in a manner consistent with the underlying values and intended strategic goals.  Inconsistencies between culture and climate are likely to have occurred through some misalignment or poor implementation of the set of practices. If practices do not reflect the culture, or are poorly implemented, climate perceptions may develop that are counter to the underlying cultural values and assumptions (Bowen & Ostroff, 2004).

Strong Climate and Cultural situations include:

  1. Agreement – the level of agreement to which employees interpret and encode the organizational situation in the same way.
  2. System-based –  the culture or climate is pervasive and all-encompassing throughout the entire organization, imposing strong expectations on employees in regards to behaviours through strong socialization and sanctions for behaving outside norms
  3. Alignment – the alignment between culture and actual organizational practices and between organizational practices and climate