Brennan Whitfield | Feb 28, 2024

Organizational culture influences the success of your company, directly affecting the sort of candidates you attract and the employees you hold onto. There are several different types of organizational culture too; so you have to find the one that works best for you.

What Is Organizational Culture?

Organizational culture, or company culture, is the shared values, attitudes and practices that make up the identity of an organization. It largely shapes employee behavior and interactions within a company. 


What Is Organizational Culture?

Organizational culture, also known as company culture, is defined as the shared values, attitudes and practices that characterize an organization. It’s the personality of your company, and it plays a large part in your employees’ overall satisfaction.

Having a strong organizational culture is important because it helps attract the right candidates and it keeps them engaged as employees. According to a 2019 Glassdoor study, 77 percent of adults would evaluate a company’s culture before applying to an open position, with more than half ranking an organization’s organizational culture as more important than compensation. And an SHRM study from 2021 revealed that 94 percent of people managers believe a positive workplace culture helps retain employees.

Creating a winning organizational culture takes a lot of time and effort — your culture must accurately reflect your values and align with your overall mission. It’s a big to-do, but don’t get discouraged: your efforts will pay off in the long run.

While any given organizational culture will evolve with time — especially as the team grows and onboards more people — you can take steps to tailor your culture to better fit your organization’s values and mission. But first, you need to understand the type of organizational culture your company has.

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a diagram comparing the four main types of organizational culture
Image: Kim S. Cameron and Robert E. Quinn / Built In

4 Types of Organizational Culture

There are four main types of organizational culture, which come from Robert E. Quinn and Kim S. Cameron of the University of Michigan, who investigated the qualities that make businesses effective. From a list of 39 attributes, the researchers identified two key polarities: (1) internal focus and integration vs. external focus and differentiation, and (2) flexibility and discretion vs. stability and control.

Types of Organizational Culture

  • Clan Culture: emphasizes collaboration across teams and a horizontal structure. 
  • Adhocracy Culture: allows individuals to share ideas and encourages the company to take risks. 
  • Market Culture: focuses on financial success and how each employee contributes to revenue. 
  • Hierarchy Culture: emphasizes career paths and provides clear managerial processes.  

These qualities are visually represented within the Competing Values Framework, which is part of the validated and widely-used Organizational Cultural Assessment Instrument. Although there are several types of organizational culture, Quinn and Cameron’s four types are generally accepted and appear to influence any variations. These four types of organizational culture are neither good nor bad, but they do provide frameworks that company leadership can lean on. 

Understanding what type of organizational culture your company has can help you identify what makes your company stand out to candidates. When you know why your organization’s culture is unique, you can highlight these attributes in your recruitment marketing materials. Recognizing the type of company culture you have can also help you write your core values and mission statement

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Type 1: Clan Culture

Primary Focus: Mentorship and teamwork.

Motto: “We’re all in this together.”

About Clan Culture: A clan culture is people-focused in the sense that the company feels family-like. This is a highly collaborative work environment where every individual is valued and communication is a top priority. Clan culture is often paired with a horizontal structure, which helps to break down barriers between the C-suite and employees, and it encourages mentorship opportunities. These companies are action-oriented and embrace change, a testament to their highly flexible nature.

Clan Culture Definition

  • Clan culture is a collaborative model usually paired with horizontal company structure.
  • Communication is key to this type of culture. 
  • Companies can implement clan culture by asking for direct feedback for employees and taking action based on their suggestions.

Advantages of Clan Culture: Clan cultures boast high rates of employee engagement, and happy employees make for happy customers. Because of its highly adaptable environment, there’s a great possibility for market growth within a clan culture.

Disadvantages of Clan Culture: A family-style corporate culture is difficult to maintain as the company grows. Plus, with a horizontal leadership structure, day-to-day operations can seem cluttered and lacking direction.

Where You’ll Find Clan Culture: It’s no surprise that clan cultures are often seen in startups and smaller companies. Young organizations that are just starting out put a heavy emphasis on collaboration and communication, leadership looks to employees for feedback and ideas and companies prioritize team-building. 

For companies with a large percentage of employees working remotely like HR tech provider Hireology, creating an empathetic and communicative organizational culture is key to success. “When you have a blended team, your local staff can help bridge gaps and build empathy,” Joel Schlundt, vice president of engineering at Hireology, said. The team coordinated job swaps to help employees better understand and appreciate their peers’ roles.

How to Create Clan Culture Within Your Organization: To cultivate a clan culture within your company, your first step is to turn to your employees. Communication is vital to a successful clan culture, so let your team know that you’re open to feedback. Find out what they value, what they’d like to see change, what ideas they have to help push the company further. Step two: take their thoughts into account and put them into action.


Type 2: Adhocracy Culture

Primary Focus: Risk-taking and innovation.

Motto: “Risk it to get the biscuit.”

About Adhocracy Culture: Adhocracy cultures are rooted in innovation and adaptability. These are the companies that are on the cutting-edge of their industry — they’re looking to develop the next big thing before anyone else has even started asking the right questions. To do so, they need to take risks. Adhocracy cultures value individuality in the sense that employees are encouraged to think creatively and bring their ideas to the table. Because this type of organizational culture falls within the external focus and differentiation category, new ideas need to be tied to market growth and company success.

Adhocracy Culture Definition

  • Adhocracy culture puts a focus on employees adapting and innovating. 
  • This culture helps companies take risks and invites individuals to share their ideas. 
  • Companies can implement adhocracy culture by hosting strategy and brainstorming sessions. 

Advantages of Adhocracy Culture: An adhocracy culture contributes to high profit margins and notoriety. Employees stay motivated with the goal of breaking the mold. Plus, with a focus on creativity and new ideas, professional development opportunities are easy to justify.

Disadvantages of Adhocracy Culture: Risk is risk, so there’s always a chance that a new venture won’t pan out and may even hurt your business. Adhocracy cultures can also foster competition between employees as the pressure to come up with new ideas mounts.

Where You’ll Find Adhocracy Culture: Think of Google or Apple — these are companies that embody the external focus and risk-taking nature of adhocracy culture. They run on creative energy and doing what hasn’t been done before. Adhocracy cultures are commonplace within the ever-changing tech industry where new products are being developed and released on a regular basis.

How to Create Adhocracy Culture Within Your Organization: Depending on your industry, it may be hard to develop an authentic adhocracy culture that includes a high-risk business strategy. However, implementing strategy and brainstorming sessions provides employees with the opportunity to share big ideas that can help to propel the company further. Rewarding successful ideas encourages teams to think outside of the box, too.

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Type 3: Market Culture 

Primary Focus: Competition and growth.

Motto: “We’re in it to win it.”

About Market Culture: Market culture prioritizes profitability. Everything is evaluated with the bottom line in mind; each position has an objective that aligns with the company’s larger goal, and there are often several degrees of separation between employees and leadership roles. These are results-oriented organizations that focus on external success rather than internal satisfaction. A market culture stresses the importance of meeting quotas, reaching targets and getting results. 

Market Culture Definition

  • Companies with a market culture are focused on financial success and meeting goals and targets. 
  • Each employee working within market culture plays a distinct part in reaching the company’s larger goals. 
  • Companies can implement market culture by analyzing each role within the company and determining the ROI of each role. Rewarding top performers will motivate employees.

Advantages of Market Culture: Companies that boast market cultures are profitable and successful. Because the entire organization is externally focused, there’s a key objective employees can get behind and work toward.

Disadvantages of Market Culture: On the other hand, because there’s a number tied to every decision, project and position within the company, it can be difficult for employees to meaningfully engage with their work and live out their professional purpose. There is also risk for burnout in this aggressive and fast-paced environment.

Where You’ll Find Market Culture: The goal of a market culture company is to be the best in its industry. Because of that, these are often larger companies that are already leaders of the pack. They’re looking to compete and beat out anyone else that may compare.

For an industry leader like Bluecore, a retail marketing platform that utilizes AI technology, providing employees with clear objectives helps the team provide all-star customer service. “Our team is clear on its goals, and we are incentivized through compensation structure and recognition,” Kim Surko, vice president of customer success, said. “With that foundation, we can apply our personality and values to define how we will accomplish those goals.” 

How to Create Market Culture Within Your Organization: Because every aspect of a market culture is tied to the company’s bottom line, start by evaluating each position within your organization. Calculate the ROI of every role and ascribe reasonable benchmarks for production. Consider rewarding top performers to encourage similar work.


Type 4: Hierarchy Culture

Primary Focus: Structure and stability.

Motto: “Get it done right.

About Hierarchy Culture: Companies with hierarchy cultures adhere to the traditional corporate structure. These are companies focused on internal organization by way of a clear chain of command and multiple management tiers that separate employees and leadership. In addition to a rigid structure, there’s often a dress code for employees to follow. Hierarchy cultures have a set way of doing things, which makes them stable and risk-averse.

Hierarchy Culture Definition

  • Companies with hierarchy culture have a clear chain of command and detailed career paths within the organization. 
  • These companies tend to avoid risk and focus on internal organization. 
  • Companies can implement hierarchy culture by ensuring each department and team has clear and concise processes and managerial structure. 

Advantages of Hierarchy Culture: With internal organization as a priority, hierarchy cultures have clear direction. There are well-defined processes that cater to the company’s main objectives.

Disadvantages of Hierarchy Culture: The rigidity of hierarchy cultures leaves little room for creativity, making these companies relatively slow to adapt to the changing marketplace. The company takes precedence over the individual, which doesn’t necessarily encourage employee feedback.

Where You’ll Find Hierarchy Culture: Hierarchy cultures can be found at both ends of the corporate spectrum, from old-school organizations to those of the customer service industry, such as fast food restaurants. These are companies that are hyper-focused on how day-to-day operations are carried out and aren’t interested in changing things up anytime soon.

How to Create Hierarchy Culture Within Your Organization: The first step to establishing a hierarchy culture is to button up your processes. If the chain of command has some gaps, fill them. Consider every team and department to ensure they have clear long- and short-term goals.

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Other Types of Organizational Culture

Outside of these four main categories of organizational culture, there are a few more worth noting. 


Purpose Culture

Purpose culture focuses on a company’s mission and core values. These aspects drive the culture. Often companies with this culture will have a mission of changing an industry or community for the better. One example of this can be seen in Patagonia’s mission statement: “We’re in business to save our home planet.” 


Coaching Culture

In a company with a coaching culture senior leadership is responsible for mentoring their employees and ensuring that individuals advance in their careers. Various coaching techniques, such as providing assessments on specific projects or one-on-one meetings where expectations and personal goals are discussed, typically drive this style of culture. 

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Accountability Culture

Accountability culture means that everyone within the organization, including the CEO and senior leadership, are responsible and held accountable for their own actions and performance. This can look like employees taking ownership of their mistakes and openly questioning how they can learn from them as well as recognizing colleagues when they have excelled in their role.


Learning Culture 

Companies with a learning culture put a special emphasis on learning and development opportunities. These organizations often have company-wide workshops and encourage employees to learn skills outside of what is immediately required for their role, providing stipends for various educational opportunities

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How to Identify Your Organizational Culture

Your organizational culture says a lot about your team and what you value, and job seekers can pick up on that almost immediately. If you’re not sure where your organization lands on this list, you’re not alone. Cameron and Quinn developed an assessment tool that helps companies identify their organizational culture. 

Once you evaluate your existing organizational culture, take stock of what truly matters to your organization: Where are you aligned? What are your areas for improvement? 

If you think a different kind of organizational culture would work better for your company and employees, take steps to shift it. While that looks different from company to company, you’ll generally want to start by defining and assessing the current culture, financial goals, company structure, mission and core values. Then continually evaluate your culture and the progress you’ve made toward your organizational culture goals.


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Frequently Asked Questions

What is organizational culture?

Organizational culture, or company culture, is the shared values, practices and attitudes that characterize an organization. It defines the overall personality and working environment of a company, and has a significant impact on employee behavior and satisfaction.

What are the 4 types of organizational culture?

The four main types of organizational culture include:

  1. Clan culture 
  2. Adhocracy culture
  3. Market culture
  4. Hierarchy culture

What does a good organizational culture look like?

A good or positive organizational culture is often one that fosters mutual respect, growth opportunities and shared goals amongst employees. This kind of organizational culture also reflects a company's core values and aligns with the company's overarching mission.

What are the 7 characteristics of organizational culture?

The seven characteristics of organizational culture include:

  1. Innovation
  2. Attention to detail 
  3. Emphasis on outcome and results 
  4. Emphasis on people and relationships
  5. Teamwork 
  6. Aggressiveness or competitive nature
  7. Stability 


Organizational cultures are comprised of all of these characteristics to some degree. However, the prioritization and value put to each characteristic will vary depending on the company and its type of culture.

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