Organizational Culture and Counter Culture: An Uneasy Symbiosis

Organizational Culture and Counter Culture: An Uneasy Symbiosis

By
Joanne Martin, C. Siehl
Organizational Dynamics. January
1990, Vol. 12, Issue 2, Pages 52-64

Takes exception to a set of common assumptions that underlie recent work on organizational culture: that the culture serves the objectives of a firm’s top management team, that the primary function of culture is to unify the diverse elements in an organization, and that culture is a monolithic phenomenon. Instead, the authors claim that the core values of a firm’s dominant culture may be directly challenged by the core values of an internal counterculture—that a dominant and a counterculture exist in uneasy symbiosis, taking opposite positions on value issues critically important to each of them. In exploring their ideas, the authors examine the dominant culture of General Motors (GM) and the counterculture in J. DeLorean’s division. DeLorean articulated countercultural values, both directly and indirectly, and used rituals and stories to ridicule the values of the dominant culture. DeLorean left GM under a cloud, making it clear that maintaining the uneasy symbiosis between the dominant and the counterculture is a complex process. 

Reprinted in the following:

  • H. Leavitt, L. Pondy and D. Boje (Eds.), Readings in Managerial Psychology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
  • P. Gagliardi (Ed.), Culture d’Impresa: Nuove Prospecttive di Analisi Organizzativa. Milano, Italy: ISEDI, 1986.
  • B. D. Sypher (Ed.), Case Studies in Organizational Communication. New York: Guilford Press, 1990, 71-86.