Organizational Culture: Necessity or Nuisance?

The difference between leadership and strategic leadership is not about being ‘strategic’, but it is about the ability to forge a doable vision.

It is often suggested that organizations progress or perish courtesy of their culture. In simple words, culture is a microcosm of unwritten norms, values, behavioural tendencies, and ways of doing things that are peculiarly characteristics of a system, such as an organization.

In a normal business organization with a more or less stable set of employees, culture will be quite well entrenched deep down in the foundation of an organization and will be at the core of driving actions and behaviours of the organization; not varying a great deal over extended periods of time unless something catastrophic happens. In fact, people not aligning themselves with the culture may even have to leave the organization, hence the culture remaining intact most of the time, if not all. In hindsight, culture seems to be the only element in an organization that out-last most of the other elements, even the people and leaders who created the organization in the first place.

Project organizations are not different from non-project organizations as far as culture is concerned. Project organizations too have their own culture which can be termed as project management (PM) culture. Albeit to a certain extent, PM culture varies with the changing eco-system of the project and the team composition.

In an organization that churns out a lot of projects with team members sharing work across several projects, the extent to which PM culture varies will be limited across the projects in that organization. Moreover, PM culture is often influenced by a set of processes, hence if the processes are the same, it is possible that the culture does not vary a great deal.

There exists no clear-cut definition of what PM culture is? Taking the liberty of this vacuum, we define project management culture as “the set of norms, values, and behaviours exhibited by a project organization, manifested in project management processes, methodologies, and mindset of people directly or indirectly involved and/or influencing the project.”

Projects are always designed to create something new or some form of improvement to an existing being. It also remains a fact that projects fail and fail miserably, causing waste of resources and efforts. This raises the question of how does PM culture affect the management of projects and project outcomes? Is PM culture a necessity or nuisance? While the question is quite simple, the answer to it is not.

To develop some judgment on whether PM culture is a necessity or nuisance, one way to do this is to look at the pros and cons. While this alone will not provide a definitive answer, yet it will surely provoke some thoughts to do further work and solidify the understanding. With that in mind, we look at the Pros and Cons of the PM culture as an example to see what it means for organizational culture.

Pros of PM culture:

  1. Psychological starting point: The PM culture enshrined in processes, routines and methods provides a psychological starting point to get on with the work. Pre-conceived understanding typically coming from PM culture about how things get started and what typically is expected of the people helps remove the initial work barriers. Although, this does not mean that conflicts, tensions, and confusions about how things should be started or done can be avoided.
  2. Promotes common goal focus: The PM culture promotes a common goal focus. Such a tendency helps in channelizing the thoughts and efforts in achieving the final project deliverable. Once the common goal focus gets cognitively embedded in brains, it develops commitment and motivates people to work towards achieving the set goal.
  3. Promotes accountability due to task divisions: Tasks and their divisions form the core of PM culture. Once tasks are identified and divided at an appropriate level, people are assigned roles and responsibilities to perform those tasks. The entire process then morphs into a system of accountability. Hence, PM culture serves as a platform to promote work-sharing and accountability.
  4. Melting pot of cultures: PM culture promotes skills-based inclusion of people in project teams. That means anyone with the right and needed skills can become part of the project work. It allows bringing people from diverse cultures together to achieve a common objective. Thus, PM culture facilitates an environment that is truly a melting pot of cultures leading to inclusiveness and acceptance of diversity.

Cons of PM Culture:

  1. Hinders creativity: One of the main challenges of PM culture is, it hinders creativity. The boxed thinking, constraints, and boundaries leave little for adventurous thinking and thus creativity is not encouraged.
  2. Promotes fragile relationships: Due to the time-bound nature of projects, PM culture promotes fragile relationships. People often don’t know whether they will work with the same person again, so they don’t put a lot of effort into relationship building, hence the relationships are expected to be fluid and built on sand.
  3. Promotes mechanistic work environment: While the division of labour and accountabilities as per PM culture is good on one hand, it creates a mechanistic environment on the other hand. People may think everyone is equal, but in reality, there will be egos. People coming from managerial positions and high-skilled jobs may have adjustment issues. It is unrealistic to think they will leave the egos on the project doorstep. PM culture does not seem to account for that.
  4. Reach the finish line psyche: Reach the finish line psyche could lead to stress. There are also numerous examples where projects either did not complete as planned or were completed late. That raises questions about the PM’s cultural effectiveness.
  5. Being diplomatic and rationale at the same time: Success of project management requires dealing with stakeholders while working within defined parameters. That means being diplomatic and rational at the same time. Having such skills is asking too much for many people, as diplomacy skills are learned over a period of time and may vary situationally. PM culture induces unrealistic expectations with few answers on how people can master these.

What do you think: Is organizational culture a necessity or nuisance?


Jiwat Ram
Jiwat Ram
Jiwat is currently working as a Professor in Project management at Excelia Business School France. He did his Ph.D. from the University of South Australia and MBA in International Business from AIT Thailand. Jiwat has over 20 years experience of working in industry across banking, construction, service, and education sectors in an international setting. For the last more than 10 years, Jiwat has worked in academia teaching at Executive Education, Master’s, and bachelor’s levels. His teaching includes courses on Artificial Intelligence, project management, management, and research methodology. Jiwat has published his research work in top-tier, high-impact factor journals including the International Journal of Production Economics, the International Journal of Project Management, Computers in Human Behaviour, the Journal of Global Information Management, and Enterprise Information Systems, among others. Combining academic and non-academic work, he has published over 100 articles in journals, conferences and industry outlets. His published work has been well received and four of his published papers have ranked in the Top 25 most downloaded papers from ScienceDirect. His two papers have been ranked in the Top 25 Most Cited articles as well. Jiwat’s research is focused on the impacts of technologies such as Social Media, Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence on businesses and society. Jiwat likes to understand how we can leverage upon the use of innovative technologies for business growth and productivity. Jiwat regularly contributes towards the development of new thought and ideas in business and technology management. As such, he has a growing portfolio of publications on some of the contemporary issues in the management of projects and organizations. Jiwat also publishes his work on social media platform Linkedin to connect and reach out to other industry professionals. His work has received a good following with a significant number of posts cited as reaching top 1% engagement on Linkedin. Jiwat’s content on LinkedIn can be accessed at: #ideannovation_jiwat Please feel free to connect with Jiwat on LinkedIn by clicking on the Icon above.

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  1. The secret of success for today’s companies is knowing how to adapt to changes while maintaining their values ​​and objectives. All companies, whether they are aware of it or not, have an organizational culture. Becoming aware of this fact, learning to know and analyze the elements that make it up and understanding how these affect the business is essential for modern companies, which face new challenges and changes every day.
    In order to be able to create a solid and dynamic organizational culture, it is important to recognize what the founding values ​​are, which are the main element of the organizational culture and must remain unchanged. Instead, the mentality and behavior of workers and managers must be changing elements, capable of adapting to the context.
    Organizational culture has a great influence on the corporate climate. A solid, consistent and well-developed corporate culture becomes the founding element for building a positive, dynamic and collaborative business climate.
    An organized culture of which one is not aware, with conflicting and not well defined elements, on the other hand, can be one of the main reasons why a company breathes an unwelcoming corporate atmosphere, which leads employees to travel unwillingly to the place. of work, to fear to express their ideas and to make mistakes, to have tense relationships between them and with executives and managers.
    In an increasingly dynamic world, which evolves and changes rapidly, some companies struggle to move forward because they are unable to accept change and adapt. Often, the cause of this difficulty is the lack of awareness, not knowing fully one’s own organizational culture and its elements, remaining anchored to obsolete basic assumptions.
    A well-defined organizational culture, in which the explicit values ​​are clear and the basic assumptions are elements capable of changing and evolving as needed is an essential element for a company. In moments of change, this organizational culture becomes the basis on which to anchor to face and overcome them successfully.
    Everyone participates in cultural dynamics, but generally culture goes unnoticed. Only when the company tries to undertake new strategies, or objectives that are incompatible with the rules and values ​​of the corporate culture, do we find ourselves faced with the power exercised by culture. And since then there will be no turning back and looking at the company from another point of view!