Study notes

Handy's Model of Organisational Culture

  • Levels: AS, A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Charles Handy, a leading authority on organisational culture, defined four different kinds of culture: Power, Role, Task and Person.

The short revision video below explains Handy's model and there are some study notes underneath.

Handy's Model of Organisational Culture
Handy - Four Classes of Organisational Culture

Power Culture

In an organisation with a power culture, power is held by just a few individuals whose influence spreads throughout the organisation.

There are few rules and regulations in a power culture. What those with power decide is what happens. Employees are generally judged by what they achieve rather than how they do things or how they act. A consequence of this can be quick decision-making, even if those decisions aren't in the best long-term interests of the organisation.

A power culture is usually a strong culture, though it can swiftly turn toxic. The collapse of Enron, Lehman Brothers and RBS is often attributed to a strong power culture.

Role Culture

Organisations with a role culture are based on rules. They are highly controlled, with everyone in the organisation knowing what their roles and responsibilities are. Power in a role culture is determined by a person's position (role) in the organisational structure.

Role cultures are built on detailed organisational structures which are typically tall (not flat) with a long chain of command. A consequence is that decision-making in role cultures can often be painfully-slow and the organisation is less likely to take risks. In short, organisations with role cultures tend to be very bureaucratic.

Task Culture

Task culture forms when teams in an organisation are formed to address specific problems or progress projects. The task is the important thing, so power within the team will often shift depending on the mix of the team members and the status of the problem or project.

Whether the task culture proves effective will largely be determined by the team dynamic. With the right mix of skills, personalities and leadership, working in teams can be incredibly productive and creative.

Person Culture

In organisations with person cultures, individuals very much see themselves as unique and superior to the organisation. The organisation simply exists in order for people to work. An organisation with a person culture is really just a collection of individuals who happen to be working for the same organisation.


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