Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Inattention to social systems in organizations has led researchers to underestimate the importance of culture—shared norms, values, and assumptions—in how organizations function. Concepts for understanding culture in organizations have value only when they derive from observation of realbehavior in organizations, when they make sense of organizational data, and when they are definable enough to generate further study. The attempt to explain what happened to "brainwashed" American prisoners of war in the Korean conflict points up the need to take both individual traits and culture into account to understand organizational phenomena. For example, the failure of organizationallearning can be understood more readily by examining the typical responses to change by members of several broad occupational cultures in an organization. The implication is that culture needs to be observed, more than measured, if organization studies is to advance. The purpose of this brief essay is to note that organizational psychology is slowly evolving from an individualistic point of viewtoward a more integrated view based on social psychology, sociology, and anthropology. In this evolution we have absorbed some of the more important concepts from these fields such as role, norm, and network, but we have not yet sufficiently understood the impact of culture. Even though I have worked on culture as a variable for over 10 years, I keep being surprised by how little I understand itsprofound influence in situation after situation. I believe our failure to take culture seriously enough stems from our methods of inquiry, which put a greater premium on abstractions that can be measured than on careful ethnographic or clinical observation of organizational phenomena. I will begin historically and then give a couple of examples of where culture comes into play in the explanation ofphenomena that have not been sufficiently understood. This will put more focus on occupational cultures that are global and raise the possibility that organizations are not the right unit of study for certain purposes. In the end, I also hope that we as researchers will come to recognize how much our own methods and concepts are a product of our own culture. SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE EVOLUTION OFORGANIZATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY The concept of organizational psychology was introduced in the early 1960s by Hal Leavitt and Bernie Bass in an article for the Annual Review of Psychology (Leavitt and Bass, 1964) and by Bernie Bass and me in textbooks with that title (Bass, 1965; Schein, 1965). The important issue at that time was to separate out from a fairly well-developed industrial psychology thoseelements of social psychology and sociology that dealt specifically with group and organizational phenomena. A number of new concepts were introduced into the field but, as 1 look back on it, most of them dealt with properties of the individual and were clearly derivative from psychology. Though we paid lip service to and reviewed the work of organizational sociologists in our
229/AdministrativeScience Quarterly, 41 (1996): 229-240
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books, I have a feeling we did not then and maybe do not even now take them very seriously. Most of the business schools that adopted this field hired industrial or social psychologists and called it "organization behavior," a label with which I was never comfortable because it struck me as a kindof conceptual oxymoron. Either we were anthropomorphizing the legal entity called the corporation, or we were loosely adopting a kind of behaviorist model that derived much more from individualistic psychology than organizational reality. At the MIT Sloan School I remember insisting that we call our newly formed group "Organization Studies" to allow us to bring in whatever disciplines were...