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Some cultural considerations for applying the Learning Organization model to Iranian Organizations Seyyed Babak Alavi School of Education, University of.

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Presentation on theme: "Some cultural considerations for applying the Learning Organization model to Iranian Organizations Seyyed Babak Alavi School of Education, University of."— Presentation transcript:

1 Some cultural considerations for applying the Learning Organization model to Iranian Organizations Seyyed Babak Alavi School of Education, University of New South Wales John McCormick

2 General questions What cultural factors may facilitate or hinder applying the Learning Organization model across countries? What aspects of Iranian culture may be important when applying the Learning Organization model?

3 Cross-cultural analysis of management theories Aspects of some management theories, which have come from some more industrialized countries, may not completely be consistent with the cultural characteristics of other countries. This recognition has encouraged some researchers to examine some management theories and models from cultural perspectives (e.g., Galperin and Lituchy, 1999; Hofstede, 1980, 1993, 2001; Perry, 1997).

4 Structure of the paper literature and research on the Learning Organization (LO) model and cross-cultural psychology are integrated to develop a theoretical framework to argue why some aspects of the LO model may not be consistent with some cultures. This issue will specifically be analyzed for Iranian organizations. Some theoretical arguments and propositions are developed for further empirical investigations.

5 Learning Organizations The LO model proposed by Senge (1990) has five disciplines: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, team learning, and shared visions. Senge (1990) suggested that development of these five disciplines enhances an organization’s capacities for highly effective changes and actions (Senge, 1990; Senge et al., 1994; Senge et al., 1999).

6 Systems thinking Systems thinking should be practiced in teams rather than individually, because the effectiveness of systems thinking may highly depend on taking as many perspectives as possible into account (Senge et al., 1994). briefly refers to a holistic approach to identifying the dynamic relationships between different components of a phenomenon.

7 Personal mastery briefly refers to the learning processes of expanding personal capacity and continually improving one’s level of proficiency in order to achieve goals (Senge et al., 1994).

8 Mental models Senge and colleagues (1994), with respect to the mental model theory in cognitive psychology (Johnson- Laird, 1983) and the double-loop learning model (Argyris, 1982), suggested that people’s mental models are important factors in forming their decisions and actions. briefly refers to those cognitive structures, which are related to people’s assumptions, beliefs, and implicit theories about themselves, others, and events (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1993; Senge, 1990).

9 Shared visions refers to developing shared images of the future and guiding practices by which people hope to achieve their desires (Senge et al., 1994). Shared visions may improve collective actions in terms of people’s commitments to their goals and organizational actions (Schein, 1993; Senge, 1990).

10 Team learning briefly refers to continually enhancing collective capacities by collectively exchanging and processing ideas. is based on the belief that the collective wisdom of a team is greater than that of individual members. Two skills have been emphasized for team learning (Senge et al., 1994): 1. “Reflection” refers to “slowing down our thinking processes to become more aware of how we form our mental models” (p. 237). 2. “Inquiry” refers to “holding conversations where we openly share views and develop knowledge about each other’s assumptions” (p. 237).

11 GLOBE Project The Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness project (GLOBE), has been conducted in 61 countries (House et al., 2002). The aim of this project was “to investigate the existence of universally acceptable and universally unacceptable leadership attributes and to identify those attributes that are culture specific” (Dastmalchian et al., 2001: 537).

12 Some cultural dimensions in the GLOBE project Societal collectivism In-group collectivism Power distance Future orientation Assertiveness Human orientation

13 Collectivism Two different types of collectivism, societal collectivism and in-group collectivism were distinguished (House et al., 2002). Societal collectivism referred to “the degree to which organizational and societal institutional practices encourage and reward collective distribution of resources and collective action” (House et al., 2002: 5). In-group collectivism was defined as “the degree to which individuals express pride, loyalty and cohesiveness in their organizations or families” (House et al., 2002: 5).

14 In-group and out-group In-group refers to a collective in which members are highly interdependent and have a sense of common fate. In contrast, groups to which they do not belong are out-groups. According to Triandis (1995), people in collectivistic societies tend to belong to a few in-groups with great commitment and loyalty. People in individualistic societies may belong to many in-groups, but their relationships with other group members tend to be looser than for collectivists.

15 Markus and Kitayama (1991) Markus and Kitayama (1991) suggested that people in collectivistic societies are more likely to take their relatedness with others into account when describing themselves; they have an interdependent construal of self. On the other hand, people in individualistic cultures are more likely to emphasize their uniqueness, rather than their connectedness with others.

16 Gudykunst and colleagues (1996) Gudykunst and colleagues (1996) showed that subjects with higher self-interdependence believed that they had to take others’ feelings into account to avoid offending behaviors. They also exhibited tendencies to hide their feelings in communication in order to maintain harmony in the in-group. On the other hand, subjects with higher self- independence emphasized openness and precision in communication more. In addition, they were more inclined to show their personal feelings in communication.

17 Power distance briefly refers to “the degree to which members of an organization or society expect and agree that power should be unequally shared” (House et al., 2002: 5). Hofstede (1980; 2001) argued that both superiors and subordinates accept the power distance.

18 Future orientation refers to “the degree to which individuals in organizations or societies engage in future-oriented behaviors such as planning, investing in the future, and delaying gratification” (House et al., 2002: 6).

19 Iranian managers in the GLOBE project Three hundred Iranian middle managers from three industries, banking, telecommunications, and food processing, participated in the study (Dastmalchian et al., 2001). Iranian managers reported high levels of in-group collectivism and power distance and low levels of societal collectivism and future orientation.

20 Power distance and reflection People may have difficulty critically analyzing their own thinking processes when obedience is emphasized and valued in a culture with high level of power distance (Hofstede, 2001). When power distance is high, people may be expected and required to make their ideas consistent with powerful individuals’ ideas rather than critically examine their own cognitive processes. Proposition 1: Reflection is likely to be less effective in organizations which are embedded in cultures with high power distance.

21 Power distance and inquiry As Senge (1990) argued, openness is the crucial element of team learning. Openness may encourage people to exchange their ideas and also take others’ ideas into account (Gibson, 2001; Senge, 1990; Schein, 1993). Given that obedience is highly emphasized in cultures with high power distance (Hofstede, 2001; House et al., 2002), it is argued that when people communicate in a context with high power distance, they may have difficulty expressing their ideas openly and use inquiry in order to identify each other’s assumptions (Senge, 1990; Senge et al., 1994). Proposition 2: Inquiry is likely to be less effective in organizations which are embedded in cultures with high power distance.

22 Power distance and systems thinking When power distance is high, ‘who wants what’ may become more important than ‘what is right’. This may undermine the collaborative nature of effective systems thinking in teams, considering different perspectives of a situation or problem (Senge et al., 1994). Proposition 3: Systems thinking in teams is likely to be less effective in organizations which are embedded in cultures with high power distance.

23 Systems thinking as a collaborative process may face more difficulties in organizations which are embedded in cultures with lower societal collectivism. Working in teams for systems thinking can be more problematic if people live in a culture in which collective actions are rarely encouraged. Proposition 4: Systems thinking in teams is likely to be less effective in organizations which are embedded in cultures with low societal collectivism. Societal collectivism and system thinking

24 Collectivists are more likely to distinguish between in-groups and out-groups. This may be problematic when some team members are identified as out-group members by others members. This may undermine systems thinking which requires teams to take different perspectives into account. Collectivists may need much more time to develop functional interpersonal relationships with other team members who may be perceived as out-group members (Watson et al., 2002). This may be more problematic in larger organizations which consist many groups. Proposition 5: Systems thinking in teams is likely to be less effective in organizations which are embedded in cultures with high in-group collectivism, when team members are from different groups. In-group collectivism and systems thinking

25 In-group collectivism and reflection collectivists are more likely than individualists to judge the appropriateness of their behaviors in a given social context based on social norms and values (Triandis, 1995). Therefore, during communication, people from collectivistic cultures may greatly concentrate on the activation of those cognitive schemas, which determine their socially acceptable and expected behaviors. The simultaneous attention to both contextual factors and reflection may be cognitively difficult, especially in collectivistic cultures in which attention to norms, values, and interpersonal relations are highly emphasized (Hofstede, 2001; Triandis, 1995). Proposition 6: Reflection is likely to be less effective in organizations which are embedded in cultures with high in-group collectivism.

26 Future orientation and shared visions people in societies with higher future-orientation may be more likely to practice building personal and shared visions. Proposition 7: Developing shared visions is likely to be less effective in organizations which are embedded in cultures with low future orientation.

27 Applying the LO model in Iranian organizations Applying the LO model may be more successful in those Iranian organizations which have: 1. low power distance; 2. less emphasis on distinguishing between in-group and out- group; 3. encouraging culture for collective actions such as teamwork. Iranian managers’ tendencies to decrease the level of power distance can be an opportunity to practice teamwork and employees’ empowerment.

28 Some hypotheses for further empirical studies H1: Reflection is likely to be less effective in organizations which are embedded in cultures with high power distance. H2: Inquiry is likely to be less effective in organizations which are embedded in cultures with high power distance. H3: Systems thinking in teams is likely to be less effective in organizations which are embedded in cultures with high power distance. H4: Systems thinking in teams is likely to be less effective in organizations which are embedded in cultures with low societal collectivism. H5: Systems thinking in teams is likely to be less effective in organizations which are embedded in cultures with high in-group collectivism, when team members are from different groups. H6: Reflection is likely to be less effective in organizations which are embedded in cultures with high in-group collectivism. H7: Developing shared visions is likely to be less effective in organizations which are embedded in cultures with low future orientation.

29 Conclusions Management models may not successfully be applied without understanding their cultural foundations. At the cultural level, applying the LO model in Iranian organizations may be less successful than some other countries with higher societal collectivism and future orientation and lower power distance and in-group collectivism. At the organizational level, Iranian organizations may be more successful applying the LO model if some cultural issues such as power distance, in- group collectivism, and future orientation are considered. Cultural issues need to be considered when developing or choosing appropriate management models for Iranian organizations. Some empirical studies at the cultural and organization levels are necessary to test the developed propositions.


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