Just as people have unique personalities, each organization also has its own distinctive internal culture based on its values, expectations and psychological climate. These are the result of written and unwritten rules that have developed over time. They determine the ways in which the organization does business and deals with employees, customers and the community as a whole.

Naturally, an organization’s culture has profound implications on productivity and performance, quality and customer care. Culture is also what determines how power and information flow through the hierarchy and the amount of freedom to express personal opinions, make decisions and develop new ideas. The company’s culture affects every facet of its operations, including the character of the workplace—where culture is most clearly felt.

How to define culture

Researchers have often attempted to define the many facets of organizational culture. Following the work of John Campbell in 1974, which described 39 cultural characteristics of organizations, subsequent researchers including Robert Quinn and John Rohrbaugh have distilled these into two dominant dimensions: the degree of structure and place of focus.

By structure
Looking at degree of structure within an organization, we find flexibility, dynamism and organic processes on one end of the spectrum, like you’d see in a startup. At the other end of the spectrum are stability, order, control, predictability and the mechanistic processes that would be expected, for example, in a more regulated government or service industry.

By focus
Does an organization determine success internally or externally? Are they focused on getting internal workings right (“If we build it right, they will come”); or focused externally, comparing itself to the competition and striving to be the best in the marketplace?

Four categories of culture

If the two cultural dimensions are arranged in a matrix, this yields four main categories of culture as defined by Quinn and Rohrbaugh: Creative, Controlled, Competitive, and Collaborative


There is no “one size fits all” for office layouts, even within the same organization. In order make sure the office suits the organization, space planners have to first consider the internal culture. An assortment of private offices, cubicles and formal meeting rooms may be suitable for a hierarchical organization that performs best under controlled processes or one where most work is completed individually. However, that layout is inappropriate for an organization where teamwork and flexibility are needed—such as at an ad agency.

How does each culture use space?

Collaborative culture requires sociable and friendly space that promote strong teamwork. The office should be flexible enough that employees are able to take new and varied approaches to their responsibilities. In turn, the organization can achieve better internal efficiencies, processes, products and services.

Creative culture needs space that enable individuals to get in touch with their own personal creativity and initiative. Teams need space to brainstorm and cross-pollinate ideas with a goal to produce the must cutting-edge results in the industry.

Competitive culture needs a dynamic and entrepreneurial environment. The workspace should reflect a hard-driving hierarchical leadership, standardized protocols and performance measures. A focus on personal and team initiative will help win market share and penetration.

Controlled culture must provide an environment which reflects its hierarchical structure. Proper allocation of space will achieve the most efficient processes and standardized results while communicating information about the specific job functions completed there.

The workplace helps define how an organization manages and motivates employees as well as how operations are conducted. Where does your company fall on the culture spectrum? Is your workplace reinforcing your character?

Want to learn more about creating an office environment that best fits your company culture?

One that doesn’t rely on workplace fads? Check out our eBook, “Forget the beanbags: Here are the real workplace trends to steal from tech.”



About the author

About the author

Bob Best, Executive Vice President, Sustainability, Energy and Safety
Helping commercial buildings operate more sustainably and productively through energy management, sustainability programs and engineering services.


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