Organizational Subculture: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:07 Organizational Subcultures
  • 0:54 Dominant vs Subculture
  • 1:40 How Subcultures Form
  • 2:26 Based on Job Designation
  • 6:07 Based on Common Values
  • 8:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: John McLaughlin
In this lesson, you will learn how subcultures form in organizations and how the values established by subcultures differ from the core values of the dominant culture of the organization.

What Are Organizational Subcultures?

When Becky Wilcox was growing up, her favorite thing to do was to make apple pies with her grandma. Grandma Wilcox grew apples on her farm in North Carolina and was known throughout the county for her delicious apple pies. Grandma's secret for making great pies was the amazing attention to detail that she put into each pie, adding just the right amount of sugar and spices to make each one perfect. When Becky got older, she convinced her grandma to start selling her apple pies, and a business was born.

Today, Grandma's Apple Pies is a multi-million dollar company with over one thousand employees who all believe in the culture that was established by their founder: that paying attention to detail makes the best pies.

Dominant Culture vs. Subculture

Every organization has a dominant culture, which is unique to that organization and provides its members with boundaries and guidelines that shape their behavior. Most large organizations also have numerous subcultures, which consist of the core values of the dominant culture and additional values unique to the subculture. Subcultures form when a group of people within an organization share a situation, problem, or experience that is unique to them. Areas of differentiation that can cause subcultures to form in organizations include geographical separation, departmental designations, functional specialty, tenure, and identity.

How Do Subcultures Form?

Many different types of workers are responsible for the success of Grandma's Apple Pies. In order to make as many apple pies as their customers demand, Grandma's Apple Pies needs a diverse group of skilled workers, which include pie bakers, office staff, salespeople, and upper management.

Although everyone who works at Grandma's Apple Pies follows the guidelines of the dominant culture established by Grandma Wilcox many years ago, many subcultures exist within this organization that share values that are unique to only their subculture. Let's find out how these subcultures formed and how they established their unique set of values.

Subcultures Based on Job Designation

One factor that contributes to the formation of subcultures in organizations is geographical separation. When a group of people within an organization operate in a location that is physically apart from the rest of the organization, a subculture often forms among members of the detached group. The members of this subculture establish unique values that provide them with a sense of identity and help them perform their jobs correctly.

The pie bakers at Grandma's Pies are geographically separated from the rest of the organization. Although the bakers who work at Grandma's Pies work at the same location as the rest of the organization, they work in a separate building, and they have very little interaction with any other members of the organization. This physical separation reinforces a subculture among the bakers that emphasizes teamwork. The pie bakers work as a team to create apple pies and depend on each other's efforts to make sure the pies are made correctly and cooked just right.

Another factor that contributes to the formation of subcultures in organizations is departmental designation. People who work in the same department often form a subculture based on a unique set of values, which help them perform their jobs and are exclusive to their subculture.

Although the rest of the employees at Grandma's Pies work in the same office building, there are still many subcultures present within this group of people. Upper management, which includes the chief executive officer, chief financial officer, treasurer, and several vice presidents, share a subculture that was formed due to departmental designation and values maintaining the financial health of the organization. Members of the upper management subculture have their own offices and usually have meetings that include only members of their subculture and not the other office workers.

The remainder of the office workers at Grandma's Apple Pies consists of the accounting department, the sales and marketing department, executive assistants, and receptionists. The office workers have formed their own subculture due to departmental designation, which is focused on following the rules and policies of the organization. Every member of this subculture works at a cubicle instead of their own office, and they do not consider the members of upper management to be members of their group. The office workers are clearly the largest subculture that exists at Grandma's Pies, and although together they form an exclusive subculture, this subculture can be divided into many more subcultures.

Another factor that contributes to the formation of subcultures in organizations is functional specialty, or area of expertise. People who perform the same type of job often form a subculture based on unique values, which help them perform their jobs and are exclusive to their subculture.

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