Organizational Culture – what helps what hurts

The culture in an organization has a substantial impact on its success. Continuous improvement necessitates lean transformations and disciplined problem-solving techniques. This article aims to see if there is a link between an organization’s culture and team members’ ability to engage in structured problem-solving techniques. The findings link organizational cultural features and team members’ ability to participate in organized problem-solving techniques for continuous improvement.

According to research, firms that successfully implement Lean transformations have a distinct culture. Organizational culture is a fluid concept that is difficult to ascertain. While some components of culture are difficult to understand, others, such as behavioral tendencies, are more obvious. However, no researches that have looked at the more explicit organizational cultural traits that support continuous development through structured problem resolution have been found. Bate (1984) offered one study that looked at cultural features for problem-solving. While Bate’s research did not specifically target lean transformations, the observed features provide a solid foundation for identifying traits that can aid in the creation of a lean atmosphere favorable to organized problem-solving. The examples offered are somewhat archaic because the Bate 1984 study was conducted when industry practices were substantially different.

Nonetheless, it can be regarded as one of the first studies to link apparent organizational cultural features to problem-solving processes. Bate (1984) identified a number of characteristics that should not be present in organizations because they can obstruct problem-solving. The table below lists these characteristics.

TABLE 1: Cultural Traits Impacting Problem Solving (Source: Bate, 1984)

UnemotionalityAvoid showing or sharing feelings, emotions or individual perspectives
DepersonalizationNot taking individual responsibility
SubordinationNever challenge those in authority; always wait for superiors to take the initiative
ConservatismPerception of participation not being valued
IsolationismAvoid interfering with other individual’s work
AntipathyOn most things, people will be opponents rather than allies

Hypothesis Formation

Null hypotheses were created by linking each of these two elements at a time to test any potential association between the (six) problem-solving processes and the (six) organizational cultural features conducive to problem solution. The instant response to the first hypothesis, for example, is apparent. Anyone would believe that fostering open communication aids in identifying the problem. This, however, is only a personal perspective. As shown in table 3, there are two sets of questions: one measures the participants’ opinions, and the other compares the participants’ opinions to their experience at their company. If the responses presented are incompatible, the hypothesis can no longer be dismissed. Below are the hypotheses, together with the applicable cultural feature and problem-solving phase.

TABLE 2: Proposed Organizational Cultural Traits for Study

Proposed Cultural TraitsCoverage
Encouraging open expressionEncouraging people to speak up, discovering problems easily
Taking individual initiativePromoting individual initiative, hence help develop countermeasures
Collectivism/ Team workValuing team work, makes easier to agree on one countermeasure
Unity/ Goal alignmentWere the union formation was allowed/ encouraged, if aligned with goals
UnemotionalityNot openly sharing individual views and ideas
ReceptivityThe way the management responds to the voice of the employees

Hypothesis 1: Encouraging open discussion of problems has little effect on identifying, breaking down, prioritizing, or assessing the problem’s core cause. The following are the two conditions included in this null hypothesis:

Cultural trait: Promoting open expressions.

Problem solving step: identifying the problem, breaking it down, prioritizing it, and evaluating the root cause.

This hypothesis assumes that encouraging open problem expression will better implement the problem-solving stages indicated. The null hypothesis is tested by determining whether TMs are encouraged to speak up about problems they encounter/discover and whether they are criticized or rewarded for doing so.

Hypothesis 2: TM’s approach to solving problems does not increase the likelihood of finding solutions to the identified problem. The following are the two conditions included in this null hypothesis:

Cultural Trait: Individual initiative is a cultural trait.

Problem solving step: coming up with countermeasures.

This hypothesis aims to see if TMs can take the initiative on their own without waiting for clearance from their boss. Taking the initiative in such situations can empower TMs and is a cultural attribute that should be valued.

Hypothesis 3: Teamwork/collectivism obstructs selecting the most effective countermeasure. The following are the two conditions included in this null hypothesis:

Cultural trait: Teamwork/collectivism.

Problem solving step: Choosing the best countermeasure.

Collectivism refers to the ability to collaborate with people who have contrary opinions. Getting a diversity of perspectives while fixing a problem can help you develop different countermeasures. Maintaining a team culture also allows additional opportunities to evaluate countermeasures and weigh their benefits and drawbacks.

Hypothesis 4: Having a common purpose or unity does not aid in implementing countermeasures or monitoring progress. The following are the two conditions included in this null hypothesis:

Culture trait: The formation of unions.

Problem solving step: Implementing countermeasures and tracking progress.

This trait refers to the possibility of unionization and its consequences. Management views labor unions as a barrier to changes in the way things are done or cultural change. This hypothesis states that if a union’s goals are consistent with the organization’s overall goals, it must be permitted to exist.

Hypothesis 5: When TMs are non-emotional, problem-solving is faster. The following are the two conditions included in this null hypothesis:

Culture trait: Unemotionality.

Problem solving step: Problem-solving speed, communication/information sharing.

This characteristic focuses on how much weight an organization places on the unemotionality element. According to Bate (1984), the results were unclear whether unemotionality in the workplace should be fostered. Do coworkers develop a dependent on one another if emotionality is promoted, or do they feel vulnerable at some point? Is it true that a vibrant environment aids in the achievement of goals and the development of a healthy culture that encourages quicker issue solving?

TABLE 3: Questions Related to Cultural trait and problem-solving step for H1

Encouraging open expressionsProblem identification, breakdown and prioritizing
My immediate supervisor is interested in the ideas I have regarding the work.I tend to focus on immediate problems.
I am allowed to speak for myself in the company.Speaking about any problem is taken by the management as an indication of me not fully understanding.
I am held responsible for problems I identifyWhen I face a problem, I try to analyze the facts systematically

Hypothesis 6: Poor problem communication up and down the organizational hierarchy is caused by organizational responsiveness to problem identification. The following are the two conditions included in this null hypothesis:

Culture trait: Organizational responsiveness.

Problem solving step: Problem/countermeasure flow.

The importance of communication in an organization emphasizes this null hypothesis. The questions are designed to see if receptivity leads to healthy communication, which aids in better communicating problem conditions up and down the hierarchy.

Discussion of Results

This section delves into the overall findings, hypotheses that were rejected or not rejected, and those that were inconclusive.

Hypothesis 1: Encouraging open discussion of problems does not affect problem identification, breakdown, prioritization, or root cause analysis: Through the statistical analysis, the null hypothesis was successfully disproved. The findings show that fostering open expression is a cultural attribute linked to improved problem identification, breakdown, and prioritization.

Hypothesis 2: Taking the initiative to tackle problems does not increase the likelihood of finding solutions to the problems identified: This null hypothesis was found to be false. As a result, TMs who take the initiative to handle problems as they emerge rather than waiting for management clearance will save a lot of time.

Hypothesis 3: Collectivism/teamwork obstructs selecting the most effective countermeasure: The survey data was used to disprove this notion successfully. Because it would be a consensus decision, rational thinking leads one to expect teamwork to aid in selecting the appropriate countermeasure.

Hypothesis 4: Goal/unity alignment does not aid in implementing a solution: The null hypothesis was found to be false. In general, unionization is seen as a roadblock to large organizational reforms. Mleyeff (2014) reinforced this idea, stating that unions can be a stumbling block, particularly when their methodology is incompatible with organizational change or when unions are held accountable for the program’s success.

Hypothesis 5: When TMs are emotional, they solve problems faster: The survey data aided in the rejection of this null hypothesis. Like the pinnacle of a lean organization, Toyota has fostered a learning culture that ingrained continuous improvement in everything they do daily. The willingness of TMs to share their ideas on potential solutions is critical to developing countermeasures to tackle problems.

Hypothesis 6: Poor problem communication up and down the organizational hierarchy is caused by organizational responsiveness to problem identification. This hypothesis was disproved with the notion that more receptivity in the workplace leads to improved communication, which allows for speedier countermeasure implementation and sharing. If management does not listen to TMs when they have an issue or suggest a solution, the TMs will most likely not notify the supervisor when the next problem arises.

Standardized issue solving approaches are employed in lean-focused organizations to achieve continued improvement. According to earlier findings, an organization’s culture has a significant impact on the types of problem-solving techniques adopted.

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