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An Oasis of Clan Culture

April 7, 2008
by Travis Gathright
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A few weeks ago, I was privileged to be a part of a panel discussion on new applications for decision support technologies at the Southeast Decision Support Sciences Institute Annual Meeting. I also got the chance to see several papers presented. Dr. Hulya Julie Yazici presented a paper, Role of Organizational Culture on Project Success (2008), on her study of the effect of organizational culture on project performance.

Dr. Yazici used the well known Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument developed by Cameron and Quinn [1] to place the organizational cultures of study participants into one of four categories: clan, adhocracy, hierarchy, and market. An excerpt from Yazici’s paper provides definition of the cultures:

The Clan culture stresses the importance of participation, cohesion, shared values, commitment and high morale, while the Adhocracy Culture assumes that innovation and initiative lead to success and encourage entrepreneurial, creative and visionary behavior. The Hierarchical culture is characterized by a structured workplace with formal rules and policies and a focus on efficiency, timeliness, and control. The Market Culture perceives the external environment as hostile with choosy consumers and a need for the organization to be both results and production oriented.

The study found a link between clan culture and project success and no association between the other defined culture types and project success. Culture preference, as related to project performance, was also measured and clan was preferred.

This finding is no surprise to IT Leaders. While organizations probably should not develop their organizational cultures around what is needed to make complex IT-related projects successful (sigh…), an organization should design a project management methodology that puts the characteristics of the clan culture into action.

As seen in the clan culture, leaders should craft projects teams that are highly connected and highly participatory. Participants should be self-motivated. Motivation will derive from a shared vision, shared understanding of concrete project goals and objectives, and a sense that participation truly makes a difference. Shared understanding of desired outcomes and a highly communicative group of people “in-the-know” means accurate decisions can be made in a distributed and speedy fashion. Clan culture works for project teams. If the organization does not happen to exhibit clan culture, a project team can and should be designed to be an oasis of clan culture within the ways of the larger organization.

[1] Cameron, K.S. and Quinn, R.E. Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture, Addison-Wesley, 1999.

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