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Culture consists of the shared values of an organisation – the beliefs and norms that affect every aspect of work life, from how people greet each other to how major policy decisions are made.

In his Four Cultures Theory, also known as the Gods of Management Theory, Charles Handy explores business structures and organisations based upon the functions and roles of the individuals involved. Each culture defines the origin of power within that particular organisation and how it affects the success of employees and the business.

It is important to note that Handy categorically states that there can be no best form since they coexist in most organisations. This is reflected in the fact that he named the four cultures after Greek gods who were worshipped simultaneously. The ideal state is in finding the right balance which involves countering the excesses that autocracy (Zeus), bureaucracy (Apollo) and disintegration (Athena) can develop, while embracing individualistic Dionysus.

Each Handy culture has its particular strengths and the combination of all four satisfies Handy’s definition of good management. The personal power of the Zeus culture can work to provide purpose and direction given the right father figure. Companies also require the order and control that Apollo’s role culture symbolises with its emphasis on systems, routines, and predictability. In today’s fast moving environment both Zeus and Apollo find the Athenian task-orientated approach increasingly essential to keep the organisation moving forward. Finally, Dionysius is needed to supply the vital spark of creativity.

Culture is a function of the task and the environment and one should never make it the focus of the debate. The question ought to be: Is this right for what we want to achieve? Therefore, knowing the four different cultures will enable you to assess the degree to which the predominant culture reflects the real needs and constraints of the organisation and may help you understand why you have been more comfortable in some organisations than others.

– Fauzia Kerai Khan
The writer is Chief Consultant, i&b Consulting, Training, eLearning. fauzia@iandbconsulting.com. 

First published in the Careers Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on October 14, 2012.

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