An Experiential Learning Approach to Understanding Organizational Culture in a Business Curriculum Mary Ann Edwards College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio Thomas M. Edwards Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky John A. Ballard College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio Keywords: experiential learning, organization culture, corporate culture, management education Organizational culture, also called corporate culture, is pervasive in the organization and gives the organization its unique characteristics. Organizational culture permeates organizational life, often without organizational members aware of cultural influences. Understanding organizational culture can contribute to individual effectiveness and help guide behaviors. An employee’s success in an organization is partially accredited to how successfully the employee understands the culture and fits within it. If the employee reads the culture and behaves in ways that support and agree with the culture, then the employee can feel that he or she is a “fit” in the organization and looks forward to success. Culture can be a difficult concept to understand. Probably the best known conceptualization of culture is Ed Schein’s. (e.g., see Schein, 1992). Culture exists at three levels: observable
artifacts (highly visible or apparent), espoused values (as stated by the organization), and basic assumptions (core values, the organization’s true beliefs and behaviors). Another widely used model for organizational culture is the “competing values framework” (Cameron & Quinn, 1999). They described organizational cultures as being one of four types: clan (internal focus, flexible, people oriented), adhocracy (flexible but a more external focus), hierarchy (internal focus, need for stability, control) and market (external but also needed stability, control). Students who are beginning their careers are told to try to evaluate the organizational culture when they consider the companies for which they may want to work. They are advised to match the culture with their own interpersonal styles so they can have a good fit. Students often find it very difficult to apply the concepts of organizational culture that they read in the textbook to the work situation in which they are applying and interviewing for positions. We have found experiential learning is a good method by which students can comprehend characteristics of structure. Student-centered and experience-based, experiential learning is a modern term for “learning by doing” or “education through experience”, a constructivist approach. Knobloch (2003) reported the study of experiential learning in United States agricultural education goes back over 100 years. Kolb’s (1984) theory of experiential learning is influential in management learning and worldwide has generated over 1500 studies (Kayes, 2002). The College of Mount Saint Joseph is a coeducational, liberal arts college with 2500 students at the bachelor, master, and doctoral level in Cincinnati, Ohio. Experiential learning is build into programs throughout the college. The essential course in the business curriculum where students learn about organizational culture is in a required Management and
Organizational Behavior course. Students majoring in business administration, accounting, and computer information systems must take this course. We have found that experiential learning is a very effective method in helping our students internalize an understanding of organizational cultures. Students participate in an experiential exercise where they must identify characteristics of corporate culture based on the models studied. They visit an organization and then relate what they have seen and conversations that they have had with employees to information that they have gained from the classroom setting. Students are required to visit one of three major food markets in the Cincinnati area and to discern the differences among these markets. The markets to be visited are well known locally and regionally. The markets are (1) Findlay Market, which is Ohio’s oldest public market, (2) Jungle Jim’s International Market, which offers foods from around the world, and (3) Whole Foods Market, which sells natural and organic products. The markets are significantly different from each other. They are very different from traditional grocery stores to which most of the students are accustomed, such as Kroger, WalMart, and Meijers (three popular grocery stores in this region). Students identify the type of organizational culture, the artifacts, and the espoused values of the market that they visited. In the classroom they compare notes and discuss what they learned and observed. They report that they are surprised at the differences that they find from the traditional grocery stores in which they shop and the differences between Findlay Market, Jungle Jim’s International Market and Whole Foods Market. Based on the experiential learning exercise, students are better prepared to identify organizational cultures in potential workplaces. They transfer their understandings and impressions to better evaluate employers for which they may interview for employment.
Using characteristics of organizational culture as a framework, they have a greater likelihood of finding a “fit” for themselves in a corporate environment. Response to this experiential method for learning about organizational culture is well received and generalizes to other course activities. References Cameron, K. S., & Quinn, R. E. (1999). Diagnosing and changing organizational culture. Reading: Addison-Wesley. Kayes, D. C. (2002). Experiential learning and its critics: Preserving the role of experience in management learning and education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 1(2): 137-149. Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Knobloch, N. A. (2003). Is experiential learning authentic? Journal of Agricultural Education, 44 (4): 22-34. Schein, E. H. (1992). Organizational culture and leadership (2nd Ed.). San Francisco: Jossey- Bass.
Short Biographies Mary Ann Edwards, D.B. A. is an Associate Professor of Business in the Division of Business, College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. Edwards is certified as a Senior Professional of Human Resources (SPHR) from the Human Resources Association. Her research interests include small and mid-size businesses, customer relationship management, customer communication, and integrated marketing communication management. Thomas Edwards John Ballard, Ph.D., is Professor of Management, College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. Ballard served on the editorial board of the Academy of Management Learning & Education journal and has over 50 refereed papers and presentations. His research interests include experiential learning and humanistic leadership. Contact information: Dr. Mary Ann Edwards Division of Business College of Mount St. Joseph 5701 Delhi Rd. Cincinnati, OH 45233 [email protected]