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Six Institutional Cultures and the Coaching Challenges

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[Note: This essay has been prepared to support interpretation of results from The Six Institutional Cultures Inventory and the accompanying Score Key. A document containing two summary descriptions of the six cultures is available, as is a more detailed description of the six cultures with appropriate citations is to be found in another essay located in the Library of Professional Coaching. Here is link to this essay: Coaching and Expertise in the Six Cultures.]

Over the past twenty years, the need for cultural analyses of organizations from the perspective of those who lead and work in these organizations has been recognized. Those inside contemporary institutions might welcome an understanding of organizational cultures because many institutions seem to be particularly resistant to influence and change. The dynamics of contemporary institutions are often difficult to understand.

Any framework that can help bring order to the complexity of these institutions will be greatly appreciated. During the past decade, Vikki Brock conducted a series of interviews with leading practitioners in the field of coaching. She discovered widely divergent perspectives on the field and suggested that these differing perspectives relate to differing organizational cultures and, in tum, to differing notions about effective leadership and coaching in each of these cultures.

It has become increasingly fashionable to describe organizations as cultures. Anthropologists, management consultants, organizational psychologists, and other social scientists have become enamored of this concept and have helped to popularize the notion that cultural analyses yield important insights about tl1e life and dynamics of an institution. The definitions of organizational culture and the methods used to study organizational cultures are as diverse as the disciplines involved. I will use Philippe Rosinski’s view that “a group’s culture is the set of unique characteristics that distinguishes its members from another group.” Rosinski’s definition encompasses visible and invisible manifestations and sees culture as a group phenomenon as opposed to an individual reality.

While Rosinski is primarily focusing on the “big C” (cultural differences across national and ethnic boundaries), his analysis – as Rosinski himself suggests – also applies to the “small c” (cultural differences within organizations and other social groups).  Rosinski states that “once differences can be seen as cultural, there is the possibility of understanding and developing skills to manage, or better yet leverage, those differences. “  I am providing an analysis of culture with regard to organizational coaching as one of the most important of these skill sets.

Four different, yet interrelated, cultures of leadership and coaching are often found in contemporary institutions. These cultures have a profound impact on the ways in which leaders and coaches view their current work and the ways in which they perceive the potential for personal benefit and organizational improvement. These four cultures also influence how those outside the institution perceive the purposes and appropriate operations of institutions, and how they believe they themselves should interact with these institutions.

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