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Is There a Relationship Between Organizational Structure and Culture?


It can happen in the world of commerce that things which are closely intertwined may be thought of as one and the same. That can be a little bit misleading because there may be separate definitions. It is important to stand back and look at relationships to give us a better idea of the influence one element of an entity has over another. Knowing the relationships can help in future plans that will affect the organisation as a whole. Organisational structure and culture are often commented on the same sentence. This is a relationship where one certainly depends on the other for its existence.

The Relationship as a Whole

You can think of this relationship as one of the forest and the trees. The organisational culture is the big picture of the entity. It is how the company does business, both internally and externally. Just as a forest cannot exist without its timber, the organisational culture will not stand without structure. The organisational structure is how communication moves from one area to the other, the reporting procedures where one person has decision-making powers over subordinates, and ultimately how the company gathers its resources to achieve objectives. The culture of the organisation matures and spreads out from the support beams brought on by the structure.

The Culture’s Impact on the Structure

It is very possible in the early stages a corporation’s existence a conscious decision is made as to what the organisational culture is going to be. The structure is then built with that end idea in mind. The concept of what will be the culture has an enormous influence on the structure as it is developed. The decisions about organisational cultural themselves may be influenced heavily by external events. A company that is heavily regulated by the government has to have certain procedures in place to be compliant with the law. This is especially true of financial institutions, and while they made appear extremely formal to the outsider be defined structure is necessary for financial reporting and compliance purposes.

Other cultures have to respond immediately to changes. The software and mobile application industries need to have cultures that can react quickly to any technological change. This means the structure may have an orientation towards teams as opposed to departments, or only three levels of staff, with executives not that distant from the workforce in the hierarchy. Communication flow within the organisation may have to be formal or informal, depending on what is demanded by external factors.

The Relationship Has To Be Close

A mismatch between structure and culture is a recipe for a major disaster. A software company that has to move quickly cannot have the hierarchical structure of a bank. The reason why many corporate mergers experience initial difficulty is that two separate cultures, with different structures as well, are joined together. No matter how upper management tries to allow both to coexist, sooner or later one organisational culture and structure is going to prevail.

How Does All of This Impact an Organisation’s Future?

Organisations can change with time. What was once a very informal office atmosphere may have to become more formal as the size and scope of the business expands. Understanding organisational culture and structure helps decision-makers do the right thing. Those executives must do some prior planning instead of just deciding on the spur of the moment to add new structural elements.

The communication flow of the organisational structure is so important that should change have to occur, the employees have to be carefully oriented towards the new way of doing things. It can take time to do this. If the right structure is introduced, then the organisational culture will adapt positively. Knowing the relationship between culture and structure will enable any transition be managed more effectively

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