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The Cultural Analysis of Soft Systems Methodology and the Configuration Model of Organizational Culture


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Organizations that find themselves within a problematic situation connected with cultural issues such as politics and power require adaptable research and corresponding modeling approaches so as to grasp the arrangements of that situation and their impact on the organizational development. This article originates from an insider-ethnographic intervention into the problematic situation of the leading public housing provider in Luxembourg. Its aim is to describe how the more action-oriented cultural analysis of soft systems methodology and the theory-driven configuration model of organizational culture are mutually beneficial rather than contradictory. The data collected between 2007 and 2013 were analyzed manually as well as by means of ATLAS.ti. Results demonstrate that the cultural analysis enables an in-depth understanding of the power-laden environment within the organization bringing about the so-called “socio-political system” and that the configuration model makes it possible to depict the influence of that system on the whole organization. The overall research approach thus contributes toward a better understanding of the influence and the impact of oppressive social environments and evolving power relations on the development of an organization.
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DOI: 10.1177/2158244015589787
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Due to growing complexity, organizations find themselves
increasingly in situations they do not know how to cope with.
This can, for instance, be a situation where the organization
needs to evolve or change but is not really able to adapt suit-
ably to an organizational or societal problem. This requires a
particular investigation into the organizational setting to
understand what the problem is (Pidd, 2003). Issues such as
strategy or operations and their subsequent performance are
often the first to be considered, thus neglecting the influence
of the organizational culture on these issues. However, peo-
ple are no longer considered machine-like entities because
they are now recognized as being the “elements” that build up
and constantly shape the culture of an organization. Dauber,
Fink, and Yolles (2012) provide a configuration model of
organizational culture which explores the dynamics between
organizational culture, strategy, structure, and operations
(Dauber, 2011). The authors draw upon well acknowledged
models from culture theory as well as management (e.g.,
Allaire & Firsirotu, 1984; Hatch & Cunliffe, 2006; Schein,
1985). Theory is necessary to analyze the data collected.
Nevertheless, and of equal importance is the type of data col-
lected and the research approach used. Lowe (2010) describes
the ambivalence of the “etic” (theory-driven) and the “emic”
(how people think/act) approach and the prevailing adherence
of positivism to rationally explain cultural phenomena from
the outside. In his examination of open access practices, Xia
(2011) uses an anthropological view of emics and etics and
concludes that the combination of insider–outsider
approaches provides a much richer account and a better
understanding of the system.
According to Stacey (2007), interaction between people
constitutes an important factor in the way organizations
change over time. “To research an organization understood
as patterning and repatterning of people’s communicative
interaction requires that the researcher uses methods which
pay attention to exactly this local interplay” (Mowles, 2011,
p. 65). This exploration of the day-to-day activities in detail
corresponds with organizational ethnography (Ybema,
Yanow, Wels, & Kamsteeg, 2009; Wastell, 2010). Being an
organizational member and a researcher at the same time has
in the ethnographic sense many advantages. However, this
requires the researcher to be aware of his or her possible
XXX10.1177/2158244015589787SAGE OpenStaadt
Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Corresponding Author:
Jürgen Staadt, RSM, Erasmus University, Burgemeester Oudlaan 50,
Rotterdam, 3062 PA, The Netherlands.
The Cultural Analysis of Soft Systems
Methodology and the Configuration Model
of Organizational Culture
Jürgen Staadt
Organizations that find themselves within a problematic situation connected with cultural issues such as politics and power
require adaptable research and corresponding modeling approaches so as to grasp the arrangements of that situation and
their impact on the organizational development. This article originates from an insider-ethnographic intervention into the
problematic situation of the leading public housing provider in Luxembourg. Its aim is to describe how the more action-
oriented cultural analysis of soft systems methodology and the theory-driven configuration model of organizational culture
are mutually beneficial rather than contradictory. The data collected between 2007 and 2013 were analyzed manually as well
as by means of ATLAS.ti. Results demonstrate that the cultural analysis enables an in-depth understanding of the power-
laden environment within the organization bringing about the so-called “socio-political system” and that the configuration
model makes it possible to depict the influence of that system on the whole organization. The overall research approach thus
contributes toward a better understanding of the influence and the impact of oppressive social environments and evolving
power relations on the development of an organization.
organizational culture, power relations, soft systems methodology, public sector, organizational ethnography, European
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influence on the research setting (Dale & Vinson, 2013; Pidd,
2003). When the researcher of this study started work for the
leading public housing provider in Luxembourg in November
2006, he found that organization within a problematic situa-
tion. First observations and the analysis of organizational
documents showed a decrease in productivity while the
workforce was constantly augmented. In the first 10 years
after its inauguration in 1979, 734 units were produced with
an average staff of 8 people. In the further development
between 1990 and 1999 another 1,290 units were produced
with an average staff of 14 people. The following years
between 2000 and 2010 show a somewhat different result
because an average staff, now of 36 people, produced only
964 units. However, this was only a symptom of the true
problems, which were predominantly located in power rela-
tions that had developed over more than a decade into an
oppressive social environment (Staadt, 2014). This “think-
ing-from-within” is a main strength of organizational eth-
nography (Ybema & Kamsteeg, 2009), which requires the
researcher to act reflexively as well as critically in the mean-
ing-making processes (Ybema et al., 2009). Insider-
ethnography is, according to Sykes and Treleaven (2009),
particularly useful for investigating critical issues such as
power and knowledge.
To collaboratively investigate the problem situation, soft
systems methodology (SSM) was used. SSM constitutes an
organized learning system that is, according to Checkland
and Poulter (2010), best carried out by the people within the
problem situation (Herr & Anderson, 2005) and ideally is a
never-ending process (Chapman, 2004). However, SSM has
been criticized for its adherence to the interpretive paradigm
(Flood, 2001; Jackson, 2010; Kotiadis & Mingers, 2006;
Paucar-Caceres & Pagano, 2009) and the lack of a sufficient
theoretical basis for the analysis of the organizational culture
(Staadt, 2014). With regard to theories, Shotter (2010) argues
that they
are of use in representing or picturing states of affairs, and we,
as individuals, use them to explain events after they have
happened, to determine their antecedent causes and to make
predictions (on the assumption that the future will be like the
past). Our use of descriptive concepts is quite different. Their
use is pre-theoretical. (p. 154)
This article seeks to demonstrate, on one hand, how the
cultural analysis of SSM, understood as pre-theoretical, can
be supported by the configuration model of organizational
culture and, on the other hand, how the configuration model
can gain significantly from the cultural analysis of SSM. The
following paragraphs describe first the cultural analysis of
SSM, the configuration model of organizational culture, and
the overall methodological approach. This is followed by the
analysis of the data collected, which was undertaken manu-
ally as well as by means of ATLAS.ti. The findings are then
discussed, followed by the conclusion.
Cultural Analysis of SSM: Analyses
One, Two, and Three
Organizational development is concerned with cultural
change within organizations (Yolles & Guo, 2003). As
depicted in Figure 1, cultural aspects in an SSM intervention
are analyzed by employing (I) Analysis One: analysis of the
intervention itself, (II) Analysis Two: social system analysis,
and (III) Analysis Three: political system analysis
(Checkland, 2000). This cultural enquiry or “stream of cul-
tural analysis” continues throughout the intervention right to
its end (Checkland & Scholes, 1990) and thus concerns all of
the four main activities of the methodology. The four main
activities (1) to (4) of SSM, that is, the “logic-based stream
of analysis” can be described as follows: The starting activity
is concerned with the finding out about a problem situation,
which incorporates cultural as well as political aspects (1).
Informed by this first step, relevant purposeful activities are
modeled (2), which are then used for a structured debate
about desirable and feasible change (3). The objective of the
debate is to find accommodations between conflicting inter-
ests, which enable action to be taken in the situation (4) so as
to improve the situation (Checkland, 2000; Checkland &
Poulter, 2010; Wastell, 2010; Yolles, 2006).
It is clear that the logic-driven stream and the cultural stream
will interact, each informing the other. Which selected “relevant”
human activity systems are actually found to be relevant to
people in the problem situation will tell us something about the
culture we are immersed in. (Checkland & Scholes, 1990, p. 30)
Analysis One considers the intervention into the problem-
atic situation itself as being problematic. There are three
roles that have to be considered. First, the client who is the
person or group that caused the study, second, the would-be
problem solver, that is, whoever wishes to do something
about the situation in question, and third, the problem owner.
The role of client is of particular interest because the study
was initiated by the researcher and not directly by manage-
ment. The researcher thus acts in the beginning as client,
would-be problem solver, and problem owner, albeit with the
approval from management to use the organization as the
case study. The participating employees, as well as manage-
ment, take on the roles of problem solver and problem owner.
It is their perception, willingness, as well as knowledge that
should be used for defining the intervention (Checkland &
Scholes, 1990; Rittel & Webber, 1973; Sykes & Treleaven,
2009; Yolles, 2006) and to collect emic data (Xia, 2011).
Analysis Two is concerned with the constantly changing
interaction between roles, norms, and values (Checkland &
Scholes, 1990; Sankaran, Tay, & Orr, 2009). A role is meant
to be understood as a social position, which is significant for
the people in the problem situation such as the leader(s)
of the organization. A norm is defined as expected behavior
of the leader(s) and the performance in the role will be judged
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Staadt 3
according to the values, that is, the local standards. This con-
stitutes beliefs about what is humanly good or bad perfor-
mance by the leader(s) for instance. “If you want to
understand human values and identities, you should study
their failures, . . . [since they] deliver more useful knowledge
and even more useful pragmatic warnings than success sto-
ries” (Magala, 2010, p. 245). Analysis Three deals with
issues such as politics and power, which incorporate its
expression, allocation, or distribution (Checkland & Scholes,
1990). According to Magala (2009), issues of power, their
genesis, evolution, and sense-making in organizational
settings are more often discussed and interpreted in
informal communication such as gossip than in formal
research reports.
[Many authors repeatedly observed] a significant scarcity of
research projects [in organizational science] devoted to the
problem of power, power struggles, individual passion and
interest devoted to the attempts to acquire or maintain power at
the expense of the other members of formal organizations.
(Magala, 2009, p. 26)
Configuration Model of Organizational
Although the public housing organization is project oriented,
it is argued that its configuration corresponds, apart from
issues such as project portfolio management or teambuild-
ing, largely to that of a typical functional organization. This
equally incorporates its connection to the external environ-
ment which inherently includes the citizens as well as the
government. The configuration model is equally concerned
with the interaction between the internal as well as the exter-
nal environment, that is, the task and legitimization environ-
ment as depicted in Figure 2. The model offers the possibility
to “explain how and why organizational culture and other
domains of an organization (e.g., strategy, structure) might
change” (Dauber et al., 2012, p. 2). The model suggests an
equal appreciation of domains and processes (e.g., guidance,
single-loop learning) so as to understand cultural dynamics.
This enables a better understanding of the efficiency of a
change process within an organization (Dauber et al., 2012).
With regard to the project-based organization, strategy, that
Figure 1. Cultural and logic-based analysis of soft systems methodology.
Source. Adapted from Checkland and Scholes (1990, p. 29).
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is, what should be done, is affiliated with project portfolio
management. Structure and operations, that is, how things
should be done, are, for example, connected with project
management methodology. The configuration model thus
enables, as described by Xia (2011), a cross-cultural or etic
analysis by comparing organizational cultures based on
equivalent objects and standards.
According to Gharajedaghi (2007), social systems have
to go through a collective process of unlearning with the
intention of replacing the deformed shared image, thus
supporting change in behavioral patterns. This process is
influenced by the history of the system, that is, what hap-
pened before. Dauber et al. (2012) do not explicitly depict
the history of an organization in their model, though the
model from Allaire and Firsirotu (1984) describes the
external environment as being composed of society, his-
tory, and contingency. However, this automatically hap-
pens once an intervener engages with the different domains
and processes. The legitimization environment incorpo-
rates all stakeholders such as the government, which, for
example, passes a law to create a new public housing orga-
nization. Compliance with the goals set could be assessed
by analyzing its performance, even going back to its inau-
guration. However, how the internal environment can pro-
hibit such an assessment, though societal criticism of its
tasks (market feedback) constantly augments, can only be
discovered through immersion into the organizational set-
ting, thus collecting emic data. This incorporates “sacred”
cultural codes, societal as well as organizational, because
their dismantling or questioning will be perceived by
the powerful as a threat or insult and thus punished
(Gharajedaghi, 2007).
Methodological Approach
To collaboratively investigate the disturbances within the
culture of the public organization, SSM was chosen as a
leading or guiding methodology. SSM has been acknowl-
edged within the management sciences and systems thinking
domain (Paucar-Caceres & Pagano, 2009) and successfully
used in many projects (Checkland, 2010). However, the
methodology faces problems especially with regard to power,
power relations, powerful people, and conflict (Jackson,
2010; Staadt, 2012). The analysis and disclosure of these
issues is hampered if the facilitator of the intervention, in the
form of an external consultant, is directly commissioned by
top management. In this study, the employee/researcher has,
on one hand, initiated the research project and conducted the
different research phases but, on the other hand, has acted as
participant and observer, and is thus inherently involved in
the web of power relations and politics. To protect the ano-
nymity of the people who participated in the research proj-
ect, pseudonyms have been used instead of people’s real
names (Van der Waal, 2009). Four different research phases
(A) to (D) were performed in a sequential manner, which
allowed each part of the process to be informed by the analy-
sis of the one preceding it, thus creating a documented learn-
ing process (Staadt, 2014). As proposed by Yin (2003), the
data collected were organized within a case study database
(Table 1).
The first phase (A) was mainly concerned with participant
observation, which provided at the start of the study a first
guidance through the literature and in the search for the right
methodological approach. Participant observation continued
throughout the whole process and was accompanied by
Figure 2. Configuration model of organizational culture.
Source. Adapted from Dauber, Fink, and Yolles (2012, p. 11).
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Staadt 5
systematic note taking. Therefore, notes are the main source
for the analysis of this first phase. The second phase (B) was
mainly concerned with semi-structured interviews and a
thorough analysis of documents. Two different groups were
interviewed, thus representing the employees’ level (14
interviewees) and the senior management level (4 interview-
ees). To take action in the situation, the third phase (C) was
concerned with five group work sessions (employees’ level)
and two more interviews (management level). With regard to
group work, different people from different departments,
which included not just former interviewees, were asked to
participate. The project manager (PM) meetings were con-
sidered a first activity to improve the situation. However,
they were abruptly stopped after five sessions when rumors
started to circulate that the chairman was not in line with the
initiative. The three phases (A) to (C) just described enabled
the completion of the first round of the SSM learning cycle.
Although the process demonstrated that the activation of the
SSM learning cycle was and still is feasible as well as desir-
able, its further continuation was jeopardized by politics and
power (Staadt, 2012).
The design of the fourth phase (D) was thus built around
the idea of enriching SSM with cognitive mapping with the
intention of approaching the situation from a different angle.
Whereas the first three research phases (A) to (C) were based
on the four main activities of SSM (1) to (4), the further
investigation concentrated on the credibility of the initial
findings and the possibility to combine the organizational
perspective with the countrywide perspective. This allowed
the problem situation to be approached from a different
angle, thus putting emphasis on the owner of the housing
system, that is, government. Four mapping sessions were
undertaken with the chairman of the organization and four
members of different ministries. Furthermore, two inter-
views were conducted with employees who had voluntarily
left the organization. These two people, who did not partici-
pate in the initial interview session, provided further evi-
dence in support of the findings. Because SSM could not
properly respond to the oppressive social system within the
organization, the fourth research phase developed toward a
multi-methodology. Only the use of methods and methodolo-
gies in combination enables us to cope with increased com-
plexity and change in problematic situations (Flood, 2001;
Jackson, 2006; Kotiadis & Mingers, 2006). With regard to
the timeline, the official data collection for the single case
study undertaken between 2007 and 2011 was followed up
by the employee/researcher in 2012 and 2013.
Manual and Computer-Assisted
Noticing Collecting Thinking (NCT)
The long table approach (Krueger & Casey, 2000) was
applied in the second research phase (B), that is, in the inter-
view session. Consequently, the manual analysis did not
incorporate all the notes taken during the whole process. To
sufficiently analyze all the data collected, a computer-
assisted NCT analysis by means of ATLAS.ti (Friese, 2012)
was undertaken to find commonalities and differences
between the results of the analytical methods used. All 90
notes taken between 2007 and 2012, the interview tran-
scripts, and the transcripts elaborated in the group work ses-
sions were set up in the program eventually producing the
primary documents P. 1 to P. 117. This approach made it pos-
sible to gather three different sources of categories/codes as
depicted in Table 2. The process of using predetermined
Table 1. Components of the Case Study Database.
Notes Interviews Group work Documents
n = 90 % n = 22 n = 9 n = 35 n = 20 n = 15
First phase (A) 35 38.89 30 business reports
+ 5 further external
20 organizational notes
from the chairman
15 newspaper
Early finding out 20 22.22
Official finding out 15 16.67
Second phase (B) 26 28.89 18
Interviews 20 22.22 18
Documents 6 6.67
Third phase (C) 16 17.78 2 5
Group work 11 12.22 5
PM meetings 5 5.56
Interviews 2
Fourth phase (D) 13 14.44 2 4
Workshops 13 14.44 4
Interviews 2
Total 90 100.00 22 9 35 20 15
Note. PM = project manager.
Note was written about relevant text passages for data analysis.
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categories from the configuration model of organizational
culture (Fink, Yolles, & Dauber, 2013), predetermined cate-
gories from the manual analysis methods and new codes
using the computerized method resulted in 55 categories and
codes. The large number of quotations created (1,721 in total),
based on the predetermined categories from manual methods,
is not a big surprise. However, the additional 1,606 quotations
developed by means of a computerized method, that is,
ATLAS.ti demonstrate that cultural aspects of the organiza-
tion, such as the behavior of the chairman, were directly used
in the manual analysis to develop the socio-political system
where the most powerful people gather together.
This concept of power relations within the organization, as
depicted in Figure 3, was developed on the basis of the cul-
tural analysis of SSM (Checkland, 2000) and more precisely
based on Analysis Two (II) and Analysis Three (III). With
regard to how power is expressed in the problematic situation,
it was found that contact to the leader of the organization is of
vital importance. People with a close relationship to him
serve as “advisors” and thus in a way influence the chairman
in his decisions on organizational issues. However, these
powerful people are expected to deliver information to the
chairman such as professional information, accusations, and
rumors. In the middle of Figure 3, we have the chairman
surrounded by an inner circle, which is composed of the most
powerful people in the organization who are not necessarily
the departmental leaders. The connection between the power-
ful people in the inner circle is contrasted by the connection
between the chairman, who has been in charge of the organi-
zation for more than 19 years, and Nikos, who has been work-
ing in the organization as a technician for 18 years. The
protection provided by the chairman allows Nikos to fight
against any possible modifications coming from the inner
circle and also to fight against the PMs. Martha (see Figure 3)
who has been working as PM for the organization since its
foundation in 1979 provides additional reasons for his ever-
growing influence.
It is not just the relation to the chairman but also his position as
representative of the personnel which is another source of
information for him. The election next week of new representatives
will hopefully change this situation since it has given him too
much power because people have become dependent on him. It is
certainly interesting for the chairman to get this kind of information
as well since Nikos is a rumormonger. (p. 101)
The above explanations lend support to the claim that
rumors or so-called shadow themes, as described by Stacey
(2001), play a vital role in the organization. The chairman is
Table 2. Composition of Categories and Codes (n = 55).
Predetermined categories from Fink,
Yolles, and Dauber (2013)
Predetermined categories from manual methods
New codes developed with
computerized method
n = 16 categories Q n = 17 categories Q n = 22 codes Q
Clarity of strategy (PO) 243 Board-legal decision taker (IS) 220 Behavior of the chairman (IS) 287
Hierarchy of authority 153 PM methodology (PO) 202 Organizational atmosphere (IS) 270
Legitimization management 42 Clarity of operations (IS) 192 Responsibilities of PMs 194
Single-loop learning 21 Power relations 186 Behavior of powerful people 170
External communication 9 Project portfolio management (PO
+ IS)
120 Political will/influence 118
Double-loop learning 8 Clarity of responsibilities 112
Flexibility 8 Information flow (IS) 101 Clarity of structure 104
Resource-based view 6 Communication problems (IS) 94 Organizational performance 90
Market-based view 2 Decision taking (IS) 93 External relations 63
Level of formality in internal
2 Team building and team learning (PO) 84 Project-based organization 46
External image 29
Level of market dynamism 2 Leadership in PD (PO) 82 Availability of chairman (IS) 28
Level of market complexity 1 Project duration (PO) 79 Board member interests 25
Level of action orientation 1 Internal personal conflict 71 Resistance to change 21
Loyalty 1 Personnel growth (IS) 60 Ext. relationships chairman 15
Level of formalization 0 Clarity of vision (PO + IS) 58 Unfair salary classification 11
Preference for adjustment
0 Motivation 38 Withdrawal of people 8
Informal communication (IS) 26 Education 7
Management skills (IS) 15 External personal conflict 3
Job security 3
Civil servants 1
Value creation 1
Total (Q) 499 1,721 1,606
Note. Q = quotations; PO = participant observation; IS = interview session; PM = project manager; PD = project development
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Staadt 7
not simply influenced by these issues, he deliberately manip-
ulates or uses them so as to further foster his own personal as
well as political power. Comparable with the description of
Magala (2009), the socio-political system depicts the hidden
power structure within the organization, which is in stark
contrast to the neat depiction of the organizational chart. To
understand the influence of the socio-political system on the
development of the organization, the preliminary findings
were compared with the configuration model of organiza-
tional culture.
This was undertaken using the network view function of
ATLAS.ti, which is, according to Friese (2012), “a tool that
allows you to explore your data visually” (p. 191). The net-
work view of the second research phase (B), as depicted in
Figure 4, illustrates the results of the interview session and
highlights the influence of the socio-political system. The
first phase (A) demonstrates that missing clarity of strategy
has repercussions on the structure as well as the operations of
the organization as argued by Dauber et al. (2012). This
could be seen, for instance, in long project duration, the
absence of a project management methodology, and the
missing allocation of responsibilities to the PMs. The inter-
view session (Phase B) confirms these results given the
strong relations between the categories mentioned. Although
these issues are equally important for the management group,
no adaptation or change has been initiated. With regard to the
reasons for this reluctance, the co-occurrence frequency
demonstrated strong links regarding the behavior of the
chairman in relation to power relations, organizational atmo-
sphere and behavior of powerful people (cf. c coefficients in
Figure 4). This is further accentuated in the interplay between
power relations, the behavior of powerful people, and the
organizational atmosphere. According to Karen (see Figure
3), the chairman is not only the cause of the problematic situ-
ation but he is also responsible for the development of the
current socio-political system. The other sources are the
management board and the employees who profit from the
unstable situation. However, “the biggest problem is the sec-
ond point. It is the chairman who causes the others. His atti-
tude towards us is similar to that towards the board” (p. 102).
As mentioned by Dauber et al. (2012), the organizational
culture directly affects the domains strategy, structure, and
operations. This applies to the disturbed organizational cul-
ture within the organization, which is intimately connected
with the board level. The missing allocation of appropriate
responsibility and power to the PMs is connected with all
Figure 3. The socio-political system and its power-related connections.
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domains and is manifested in that neither a project portfolio
management nor a project management methodology has
been developed and implemented.
Discussion of the Findings
The first phase (A) was mostly focused on management
issues and brought to light many deficiencies within the
organization, which concern operational as well as strategic
management and hence the whole organization. The further
research process, especially the interview session (Phase B),
then revealed the major problems that hinder the further
development of the organization. They are to be found in
power relations between people, which are explained in the
socio-political system of the organization. It was found that
people use their acquired power against others to push for-
ward their ideas and personal interests. Moreover, it is some-
times just used against people because they are disliked or
considered incompetent. The so created “outsider” groups
(Stacey, 2001), who have realized their powerlessness, fre-
quently react with simple disappointment or loss of motiva-
tion. Sometimes, there are even psychiatric responses such
as panic attacks. The working environment is thus polluted
with mistrust, which is, according to Hancock (2010), “the
dark heart of wicked problems” (p. 54) because it prevents
real listening and dialogue and consequently learning. This
situation is in a way initiated as well as fostered by the chair-
man due to the development of special relationships with dif-
ferent organizational members along with the allocation of
covert or overt power. The constant growth in personnel is
aggravating the situation because people try to keep their
power by avoiding any possible change.
The socio-political system (Figure 3) was brought to the
surface by using the cultural analysis of SSM (Checkland,
2000), that is, an action-oriented approach (Sykes &
Treleaven, 2009; Yolles, 2006) for collecting emic data (Xia,
2011). However, only through the application of the configu-
ration model of organizational culture (Dauber et al., 2012)
Figure 4. Network view with c coefficients of the second research phase (B).
Note. PM = project manager.
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Staadt 9
was it possible to highlight the impact of the disturbed orga-
nizational culture on the whole organization (Figure 4).
Given the overall result, the two should be used in combina-
tion. This proposition is reinforced if we look at the interre-
lationship between the socio-political system and the external
environment. Based on Analysis Two (II) and Analysis Three
(III), it was found that the politically strong chairman (a high
civil servant acting at the same time as governmental advisor
to the housing minister) is able, even within a representative
democracy, to block citizen control and criticism of his activ-
ities (Staadt, 2014). The political dependency of the minister
in charge on his support represses rapid interventions from
government which confirms the involvement of power issues
at all levels and the need for a closer look at them. Dauber
et al. (2012) describe the legitimization environment as a
part of the external environment and the possible cultural
pressure as well as compliance requests it might provide for
the internal environment. The politically strong position of
the chairman enables him to fence off the internal environ-
ment from external influences or control. These power issues
thus demonstrate why the leading public housing organiza-
tion was never really questioned though its performance con-
stantly decreases with the consequence that people in need
are not provided with sufficient affordable housing (task
With regard to Analysis One (I), the discovery of the
socio-political system (Figure 3) after the second research
phase (B) put the researcher in a somewhat tricky position
especially with regard to the further work with the manage-
ment group. Gharajedaghi (2007) mentions that the question-
ing of “sacred” cultural codes can possibly be perceived by
the powerful as a threat or insult and thus punished. This
required the employee/researcher to be brave and persistent
but this will not necessarily work in other organizational set-
tings. The unease researchers might experience in power-
laden and oppressive environments explains, as stated by
Magala (2009), the scarcity of research projects devoted to
the problem of power and power struggles. With regard to
action research in the context of systems thinking, Checkland
(2012) regrets the rarity of work undertaken within actual
situations. This is, according to Checkland, partly due to the
limited use of action research in universities and the reluc-
tance of academics to become accountable for their contribu-
tions as participants.
This article delineates how organizational culture is inher-
ently connected with politics and power and how this requires
flexibility and openness regarding the combination of etic
and emic approaches. Based on the findings of the study, it
can be argued that the combined use of the cultural analysis
of SSM and the configuration model of organizational cul-
ture is mutually beneficial. The combination of the two
seems to be particularly useful where the whole organization
is under collaborative investigation and where organizational
culture is understood as a product of social and political
arrangements within a web of evolving power relations.
This requires the organizational ethnographer to under-
stand that the investigation itself is problematic, as described
in Analysis One (I), which calls for sufficient reflection
about the shareholders/co-researchers and to act critically,
reflexively, and with the right intuition. Given the results, it
would be of interest to investigate how SSM could be com-
bined with the configuration model of organizational culture.
This could bring about a means that supports the analysis of
organizational culture based on human activity models. The
overall research approach helped provide insight into the
influence and the impact of the oppressive social environ-
ment on the further development of the public organization.
It is hoped that the results of this intervention will encourage
the board as well as the government to eventually develop an
organizational design that replaces the traditional authoritar-
ian style in favor of a democratic learning entity.
I thank my supervisor Slawomir Magala, professor of cross-cultural
management at the Erasmus University, who accepted my research
project and provided me with the academic freedom to develop into
a reflexive and critical researcher.
Author’s Note
This manuscript is based on data that were also used in the author’s
doctoral dissertation, defended on March 20, 2014, at the Erasmus
University Rotterdam.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research and/or
authorship of this article.
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Author Biography
Jürgen Staadt is a registered German architect. He holds a PhD
from Erasmus University Rotterdam. His special research interests
include organizational behavior and in particular issues such as
politics, power and oppression in the context of pressing societal
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... It represents a level of concordance in the basic assumptions that are believed to be non-confrontable and non-debatable. Staadt (2015) found that organizational culture is the most prominent enabler in enhancing knowledge sharing in transnational projects. Atkins and Turner (2006) advocated that management of uncertainty is a necessary condition for effective project management. ...
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