- Organizational culture is broadly recognized as a significant force in organizational
action. Since the phenomenon of culture has real impact on organizations, our understanding
of that impact is vital to organizational health. While academic settings provide a rich
environment for studying culture, relatively little research on culture has occurred in this
setting. This interpretive study contributes to our understanding of the administrative
subculture in higher education by examining cultural influences at work within a community
college administrative team.
The framework of organizational symbolism influenced the overall research goal of
interpreting cultural themes found in a community college administrative team and
exploring how these themes were expressed in organizational action. Organizational culture
was conceptualized as having three levels of manifestation: symbols of culture,
organizational values, and basic assumptions about reality. Research questions were
developed with the aim of examining each of these cultural levels within the executive
administrative team at Northwest Community College and addressing the belief that
administrative team actions and decisions are an expression of the common values and
assumptions held by team members.
This study integrated field observation with interviews and document review to
uncover the values, assumptions, and actions of administrative team members. Cultural
windows used to focus observations and interviews included (a) organizational stories, (b)
organizational heroes, (c) organizational symbols, and (d) organizational traditions.
The following cultural themes were evident within the executive administrative team
at Northwest Community College: community, change and innovation, fairness, candor, hard
work, learning and development, humor, teamwork, delegation and shared decision-making,
and customer responsiveness and recognition of others. These themes were expressed in
numerous team actions. Symbols reinforcing each cultural theme were active within the
organization. These symbols included artifacts, traditions, and prominent actions taken by
the team. The executive administrative team's primary role within the organization was to
influence organizational decisions and modify organizational involvement regarding
Key historical figures or events appear to have played a role in developing some
cultural themes through strengthening existing values or creating new, contrasting values.
Paradoxical value sets were found within three cultural themes: hard work (balancing
workload), teamwork (separateness), and delegation and shared decision-making (direct