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Evolutionary Foundations for Organizational Culture


Strategy and Entrepreneurship

Publishing details

Authors / Editors

Brahm F;Poblete J


Publication Year



While adaptation has been argued to be a fundamental function of organizational culture, a diversity of research approaches exists in the literature. Some measure its content quantitatively –for example, the degree of innovativeness (v/s tradition)– and seek to generate practitioner-relevant typologies; others focus on specific, theoretically-oriented aspects of culture, such as knowledge, norms, shared beliefs, and frames/cognition. The flipside of this burgeoning diversity, however, is a lack of consilience and common ground. In this paper we provide a formal model that may serve as an integrative framework for the field. The model is based on cultural evolution theory, whose wide scope is suited for integration efforts. The model consists of a changing environment, where agents acquire adaptive knowledge either via traditionalistic or innovative learning, agents may exert cooperative effort, and the organization’ leaders have two levers at its disposal: strength of prosocial norms and accuracy of the shared beliefs about the organization-environment interaction. The view that the model provides is that organizational culture evolves via a process of learning, that its function is adaptation to the environment, and that it does so in two fundamental ways, by external adaptation –captured by shared beliefs about the organization-environment interaction and innovative learning behavior– and by internal integration –captured by the strength of prosocial norms, cooperative effort, and traditionalistic learning behavior. The model yields several specific findings which we map to previous empirical findings, and we show how the model provides a common theoretical foundation to the main cultural typologies of the literature.


Organizational culture, Cultural evolution, Adaptation; Cooperation; Social norms; Stories; Shared beliefs; Knowledge


Working Paper

Available on ECCH


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