5 Archetypes of Organizational Culture

According to Freire (2007) there are Five Archetypes of Organizational Culture. Naturally, these cultures are based on, developed and perpetuated by leadership. Those he names:

  • Customer-Centric - The Customer is everything
  • One-Team - Oneness is everything
  • Innovation - Learning is everything
  • Achievement - Getting the job done is everything
  • People-First - Our people are everything

Now at first the One-Team and the People-First look suspiciously similar, however the former has the people sublimating themselves for the organization, and the latter has the opposite.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qU6H6cnOAY

Customer-Centric Culture

  • CEO spends a lot of time with customers
  • Effective listening is widespread
  • Client issues are part of every meeting
  • Top investments go to client initiatives
  • Untrained staff never put in front of the customer
  • People proudly share stories of exceeding customer expectation
  • Customer feedback integrated into everyone's compensation
  • Those closest to the customers know more about their needs than senior leadership
  • Are you really a humble organization?
  • Are you really a learning organization?
  • Is the relationship based on trust and reliability?
  • Is there arrogance and rejection of feedback?

One-Team Culture

  • Willing to sub-optimize subsystem to optimize overall system
  • Once agree on what is best for the firm, will follow decision
  • Work is done by one group on behalf of the whole
  • Remuneration encourages facilitating the work of others
  • Reporting lines and structures recognize dual-citizenship
  • Move people around through the organization to gain broader perspective
  • Most people have good motives
  • Generosity and sharing, trustworthiness, openness
  • Not territorial or silo mentality
  • Japanese style

Innovation Culture

  • Experimentation, risk taking
  • Experience is valued
  • Resources given to Research and Development
  • Lots of learning processes and meetings
  • A lot of rigorous measurement focused on continuous improvement
  • Curiosity, courage, openness, learning
  • If it isn't broken, break it anyway
  • Not risk averse
  • Shoot for the stars
  • We are not here to count the pens, we are here to change the world

Achievement Culture

  • Culture of accountability
  • Meritocracy, my word is my bond, truthfulness
  • Bottom 10 % needs to go
  • Clarity in communication of goal-setting
  • Healthy confrontation when excuses for nonperformance are given

People-first Culture

  • Encouraging people to grow
  • Give under-performers a second chance
  • Symbols of lack of hierarchy
  • A lot of training, workplace development
  • Believe in diversity, opportunity, trust
  • No distrust
  • Find people the right place in the organization

Organizational Cultural Change is Hard

Organizational change is a huge undertaking, and in many cases simply falls short. I appreciate that Freire says it takes about two years to shift cultural focus of an organization.

Also, though it really doesn't work well, Freire suggests it is possible to build all five cultures into a single organization. A well-rounded organizational culture is a fairly bland culture, but of course each of the types of organizational culture has elements that any decent organization should embrace. It is simply that one type needs to be primary.

But how can leaders change or enhance Organizational Culture?

Leaders Send Messages through Actions

  • How do you as a leader do things
  • Distance between walk and talk
  • What you do says what is important, role meeting
  • How do you run meetings, how much time in meetings are spent focusing on customers, change, etc.
  • Symbols are the calendar and the checkbook
    • Time spent on things shows value
    • Money spent on things shows value
  • Who gets promoted, why, office space
  • Role as storyteller, what are the stories? They show values
  • Planning and budgeting process
  • Compensating people based on achievement, learning, customer
  • What are people rewarded for doing?

Hofstede and Dimensions of Organizational Culture

Freire has a nice set of cultural types but the idea that there are only five types doesn't get at the why, the actual dimensions of organizational culture, and how to measure it. For that, Geert Hofstede is the best source.1


  1. I actually met Hofstede at the University of Hawaii in the mid 2000s. He had a connection with the university in the past, and on occasion would visit and give a lecture or two. He spoke at a seminar and was charming. I've also read in depth both Cultures' Consequences and his research on Organizational Culture and related publications. For a popularization of this academic research, see Cultures and Organizations: Software for the Mind