OBHRM 501: Human Behavior and Organizations
Class 7 (5/21/03)
Jane E. Dutton
University of Michigan
Enabling Excellence Through Culture
Teaching Note – Prepared by Jason M. Kanov and Jacoba M. Lilius
University of Michigan
Goals of the class:
1) To respond to the student‘s feedback (collected the previous class).
2) To introduce the concept of culture, and connect it to organizational excellence.
3) To provide an example (IDEO) of an organization with a culture that enables excellence
4) To allow the students to experience and overcome potential barriers to cross-cultural
communication using a role-play exercise.
Videos and materials needed:
? Copies of Dividend magazine (this is the University of Michigan Business School
magazine) – 1 copy per every 3 or 4 students. See the description of slide 5 for additional
? Video – ―The Deep Dive‖ (This is a segment about IDEO that was shown on Nightline
aired on July 13, 1999. The video is available through ABC News.)
Description and Flow of the Class:
Slide 1 Slide 2
Slide 1 This slide provides a brief overview of the flow of the class.
Slide 2 This slide summarizes the mid-term feedback the students provided in the
previous class. The slide describes what the students seem to enjoy about the
class, and it also identifies some aspects of the class that could be improved. In
addition to listing the areas that could be improved, it is a good idea to also
describe any efforts you will be making in order to make these improvements.
[Reviewing this feedback with the class should take approximately 5 minutes.]
Slide 3 Slide 4
Slide 3 This slide introduces some basic ideas about organizational culture.
? There are many definitions of culture that exist in the organizational
literature, but the one that appears on this slide (shared assumptions, beliefs
and values that distinguish a social collective and shape patterns of behavior)
is the one that fits best with purposes of the class.
? Culture can be hard to put your finger on. That is, it is difficult to say exactly
what an organization‘s culture is like, yet at the same time, it is very easy to
feel when you enter an organizational context.
Slide 4 The information in this slide is based on the Schein coursepack reading. It
describes three levels of culture, from the most to the least visible (artifacts being
the most visible and basic underlying assumptions being the least visible). As a
way of transitioning to this slide, explain that it is at the level of artifacts that
culture is tangible, but that it is at the level of basic assumptions that culture is
Note that culture is very difficult and very slow to change because it is these
assumptions that must be changed – it would take at a minimum 10 years to
make a real culture change. Connect this difficulty with the notion that new
strategies are often implemented without consideration of the basic culture to
explain why change efforts often fail—it leads to situations in which
organizational culture and strategy are not aligned.
Slide 5 Slide 6
Slide 5 This slide describes a break out exercise that is intended to get the students to
identify concrete aspects of the three levels of culture in a real organization. The
organization that will be investigated is the University of Michigan Business
For this activity, students are asked to break into groups of 4 and each group is
given a copy of the University of Michigan Business School‘s Dividend
magazine. Groups are then asked to identify evidence of cultural artifacts,
espoused values, and basic underlying assumptions based on what they see in the
magazine and what they know or have experienced as members of the business
school. (10 minutes)
Discussion about the group activity (15-20 minutes):
This discussion gives the groups an opportunity to share their ideas with the class.
To enrich the discussion, you may also want to prompt them to reflect on other
related cultural levels. For example, if they identify a cultural artifact, try to push
them to think about what this artifact suggests in terms of cultural values or
? Sample responses:
Artifacts – Limousines that take executives to and from the airport
(The students are then pushed to think about what this artifact suggests in
terms of values or assumptions)
o Some responses: care for stakeholders; elitism; arrogance
Artifacts Espoused Values Basic Underlying Assumptions Beautiful surroundings (e.g. We are a world class business Aesthetics reflect quality courtyard) school
Diversity in featured career Be interdisciplinary Well-roundedness is important opportunities
Tozzi Center We want to be high tech and Technology is the way to
connected to Wall St. advancement Alumni connections You should give back It is important to foster the next
generation of students Cultural diversity We strive to maintain a Diversity in background and
diverse student population experience is beneficial to the
learning experience. Limousines for executives We care about prestige Success = $$$
Slide 6 This slide depicts a figure that has been developed by members of the business
school (from the deans to the support staff) as an articulation of their new
strategy, ―Leading in Thought and Action‖. The top section of the figure says,
―Conjoining Theory and Action‖. The middle left section says, ―Innovating In
Business Education‖. The middle right section says, ―Capitalizing On Co-
Creation Opportunities‖. The base of the triangle says, ―Developing Broad-
Based Intellectual Capital With Impact‖.
The purpose of this slide is to foster discussion about alignment between a new
strategy and organizational culture. For example, the triangle is a representation
of the Business School‘s strategy. It was used to engage students in a discussion
about how the current Business School culture supports (or not) the strategy.
Slide 7 Slide 8
Slide 7 This slide helps the students to see how cultures can be nested within other
cultures. For example, the culture of the Business School (unit culture) is nested
within the U of M‘s organizational culture, which is nested within the
professional-industry culture, which is nested within a national culture.
Slide 8 Video – ―The Deep Dive‖ (25 minutes):
This slide provides the students with some guiding questions to keep in mind as
they watch a video clip featuring IDEO. The purpose of this video is to provide
students with a concrete example of a positively deviant organization for analysis
and discussion. IDEO is an organization with a strong culture that encourages
excellence through creativity.
Discussion about the video (20 minutes):
The guiding questions from slide 8 can be used to initiate the discussion. As
students identify aspects of the culture, ask them to think about the aspects of the
organizational practices and process that enable these aspects. Offer your own
insights to connect the students‘ comments to the main ideas you are trying to
How would you describe the culture?
? Sample responses: open; encouraging of people to be creative; fun; there
is personality in every cubicle; non-threatening; value placed on out-of-
the-box thinking; not experts at products, but process; judgment is
How is the culture created and sustained?
? Sample responses: flat (non-hierarchical) structure; recruiting and hiring
practices (selecting for diversity in background and attitudes); evaluation
practices (peer evaluations); rewarding groups (not individuals)
Slide 9 Slide 10
Slide 9 This slide is a quote from the CEO of IDEO that is used to demonstrate the
concept of mindfulness as a collective process. Note that this process is very
difficult to imitate as a competitor.
Slide 10 This slide is very important because is makes the link between organizational
culture and excellence. As you go through the points on this slide that describe
how culture can enable organizational excellence, try to connect the points back
to concrete examples from the IDEO video or other examples that may have
come up in discussion.
Break (10 minutes)
The second half of the class uses a role-playing exercise to provide students with
an opportunity to experience some potential difficulties associated with cross-
cultural communication and interaction. Although the activity that Jane used in
teaching this class is not available, the following is a brief description of the
activity that will hopefully help you select or develop an activity that fits with the
goals of this class.
The premise of the activity that Jane used is as follows: American journalists
must negotiate with ‗Xions‘ (people from a fictional foreign land) in order to
gain permission to take pictures of gardens that have never before been
photographed. While this is not made explicit prior to the exercise, the Xions
have many different cultural norms and expectations that the Americans must
pick up on and follow if they are to gain access to the gardens.
This is a group activity such that each student will be a member of a group of
either three Xions or three American journalists. During the activity, each group
of Xions will be paired with a different group of Americans. If the number of
students in the class is not divisible by 6, the extra students can act as observers
for the interactions. Once the groups are formed, the Xions and the Americans
should be separated, given instructions about their respective roles, and given
about 10 minutes to prepare for their roles. When the activity begins the
Americans should spend some time getting to know the Xions before attempting
to make their request.
As a way of debriefing the activity, begin by discussing what happened across all
of the groups and then discuss the challenges that groups faced during the
activity. Below are some examples of discussion questions:
? How many groups achieved their outcome? (It may be that the majority
of groups will be unsuccessful.)
? What was the most difficult part about this interaction?
? What approaches worked (or did not work)? What were the keys to
success (for those groups that succeeded)?
? What role, if any, did stereotyping play during this activity?
? What did you do to build a positive connection during the interaction?
(E.g., you could express interpersonal attunement by asking questions
like ―Do you understand English?‖ or ―Do you want me to slow down?‖)
It is also important to spend some time discussing the broader implications of
challenges faced in this activity.
? How can you utilize your experience here today or your experience in
industry to lead you to cross-cultural competence?
o Sample responses: ease into the culture; engage fully in the
culture (ask many questions); show respect through interest;
share aspects of own culture; research the other culture carefully
before attempting to interact (noted that in this case, many of the
barriers to communication could have been avoided with even
basic research that the students didn‘t have opportunity to
conduct); keep an open mind.
o Additional thought: An important part of cross-cultural
competence is being able to show it – for example, being able to
indicate that you are keeping an open mind. How do you do this?
Slide 11 Slide 12
Slide 11 Use this slide to summarize and expand on the difficulties that the students
identified during the debriefing of the activity. It is important to emphasize how
challenging these difficulties may be to overcome. Note that even in the present
exercise in which people may have had a heightened awareness of cultural
barriers, they were still very difficult to work through.
? Courtesy conventions – Each culture has conventions for courtesy–
people who don‘t conform to these conventions may be viewed as rude.
For example, the American convention of asking, ―How are you?‖
without expecting an answer may create an impression that Americans
are insincere to those from other cultures.
? Phasing – This can affect how and when business subjects are discussed.
Different expectations exist across cultures about necessities and wasting
time as do different assumptions about mixing business with pleasure.
? Objectivity – Culture affects the preferences and expectations about logic,
precision, and orderliness. Less orderly can seem chaotic; being
precision–oriented can seem intolerant and demeaning.
? Specificity – Cultures differ in terms of how specific one should be at the
start of a discussion. For example, white Americans tend to start with
specifics and what are considered important points and then expand.
Asians prefer to start with generalities and go to details.
? Assertiveness – Major cultural differences exist in the preferences and
appropriateness of being self-effacing vs. self-promoting. Different
behaviors in different cultures would be interpreted as friendly vs.
confrontational vs. aggressive.
? Candor Differences – There exist differences across cultures in terms of
the priority given to candor in communication. For example, Americans
often feel telling the truth is key. In other cultures, courtesy, sensitivity,
loyalty to family, and face are much more important.Slide 12 This
slide summarizes what the main points about culture. Note the potential for
positive dynamics of organizational culture and juxtapose it with the potential
negative dynamics of cross-cultural barriers.
The next class is about physical and social architecture. Jane asked students to
come to class with ideas or artifacts regarding physical spaces that might enable