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Organizational and Management Anthropology Published: Sunday, September 21, 2003 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

The cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall explains the elements of culture in his classic and beautiful book “The Silent Language”. His elaboration can be applied to the organizational setting and the strategic initiatives leaders and executives can take to become fluent in organizational culture.

Organizational cultures contains rules for:

Interacting with the environment: Leaders and executives need to be completely familiar with their organizational environment, including its actual and potential market, internal political and social forces, customer demographics and needs, strategic possibilities and potential limits.

Associating with others: The knowledge of how the people in the organization coalesce, gather in affinity groups, organize to achieve goals, and get work done, promoting the development of strategies and alliances that can support those leaders and executives in achieving their goals. Subsisting – Understanding how the culture rewards, compensates, and supports people and determines the way they subsist inside the organization, a reality that may encourage leaders and executives to take risk.

Understanding gender and other biases: This element points to the comprehension of cultural differences, mental models, attitudes, and rules regarding gender, race, ethnicity, age and disability inside the organization to exercise freedom to operate effectively within the constraints these biases impose.

Navigating territories: Mapping the cultural forces that determine how boundaries and space are established and what it means when these lines are crossed, providing key information about negotiating limits and navigating organizational space required for achieving personal and organizational goals.

Monitoring time: This is about understanding organizational time and how it is interpreted regarding expectations, work habits, behaviors, time-based communications, and allocation of temporal resources.

Learning: It refers to how attitudes toward learning can be open or closed, supportive or dysfunctional, individualistic or team-based.

Playing: Play and humor, including an understanding of what people laugh at and what they find of good or bad taste, offers information that is useful in problem-solving and creating better relationships without violating hidden rules.

Using property: Having knowledge about the cultural rules regarding possession, exchange, and use of personal and organizational resources constitute a very important factor for healthy organizational adaptation.

Fighting: A profound understanding on how people engage in conflict and what they do when differences become irreconcilable.

The novelist Albert Camus wrote a friend some words that apply to leaders and executives: “Don’t walk in front of me, for I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, for I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend”.


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