In the 1990s, the noted organizational development scholar-practitioners Cameron and Quinn proposed the Competing Values Framework as a model for understanding four main types of organizational cultures. The framework is composed of two continuums arranged perpendicular to one another.

One continuum considers the organization’s comfort with ambiguity. At one end of the spectrum are progressive organizational cultures that favor individuality and flexibility and, at the other, those that are conservative, desiring stability and control. In contrast, the other continuum considers the orientation of the organization’s culture toward either maintaining itself or focusing on external stakeholders and advancing market position.

The resulting picture creates four quadrants, each of which represents a different type of culture: clan, adhocracy, hierarchy, and market. In Cameron’s and Quinn’s model, hierarchy and adhocracy stand in direct contravention of one another as do clan and market.

In a clan-type culture, people treat one another like family. Although the organization is often oriented inward, with an emphasis on maintaining the status quo, there is great respect for the individual. This type of a culture tends to be more flexible and less controlling. Hierarchy-type cultures are also inwardly focused, but tend to adopt rigid command and control structures that deemphasize the individual.

Externally focused, market-type cultures emphasize control and stability. Interestingly, they are often capable of implementing significant organizational changes very quickly. This is mostly due to their authoritarian leadership models that force compliance with new processes and practices. Although the change may be rapid, it is not always institutionalized. An adhocracy-type culture is also externally focused, but far more flexible and oriented toward the individual. Most start-ups adhere to this model. It creates an entrepreneurial environment primed for transformational change.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this value framework for a couple of reasons. First, the course I am taking this term is focused on organizational design and culture. The second reason has to do with the way I have been evaluating my own personal culture—you could think of a personal culture as consisting of the hallmarks of how you do things. Through therapy, I have learned to define myself by my values and beliefs, rather than my job title or professional credentials.

As I reframe the way I think about myself, I consider the two opposing continuums presented in Cameron’s and Quinn’s model. How am I oriented? Am I looking internally or externally? What is my comfort level with ambiguity? Am I flexible and open to uncertainty or do I desire stability and a sense of control?

I’m comparing who I previously understood myself to be with who I am becoming. It is a paradigm shift in how I see the world and my place in it. I appreciate this opportunity for self-discovery. It is transformative.

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