By Mohd Ferdaus Harun
University is a heterogeneous institution consisting of various groups of people from different socio-academic backgrounds. In a university, we have academics who serve as lecturers, researchers and academic administrators. We also have professionals and non-professionals working in the university's management and administration, such as managers and administrative officers.
The university also has a support system that is not directly involved in the main services (i.e., teaching, research, & consultation) but is essential to the university's operation. Support system personnel such as librarians, financial officers, doctors and nurses, IT engineers and technicians, lab assistants and security officers are important members of the university.
From a cultural perspective, these members would have different values and beliefs that shape their mentality and influence their behaviour in the university. Is it possible for these different groups of people to share the same culture?
Many believe that a university does not possess one unified culture that governs all members of the university. Instead, we might have an academic culture that caters to the academics and faculties, management culture for the administrative and management staff, and various specific cultures demonstrated by the support system personnel (e.g., culture among librarians or culture among technicians).
This belief, however, is the epitome of the existence of organisational culture. No culture is a culture by itself. It’s just that the university has a fragmented culture instead of an integrated culture. The culture, in this case, is the belief that academics, management, and support system personnel cannot or do not have a unified belief or value, thinking, and practice among themselves. A scenario represents a nightmare for the university’s leaders.
This perspective stresses that the university has its own organisational culture that caters to all types of university members, regardless of their job affiliations. University organisational culture refers to collective programming of the mind, or shared beliefs and values, or common behaviours among academics, management, and supports system personnel of a university.
One aspect that people often misunderstood is that University Organisational Culture can only be seen. On the contrary, university organisational culture can be manifested at the observable (i.e., behaviour) as well at the psychological levels (unobservable), such as at the affective and cognitive levels.
Feelings of pride, sense of belonging
Members’ shared feelings of pride and sense of belonging towards the university, for example, are the organisational culture at the affective level. University organisational culture can be manifested at the cognitive level as well. The mind-set for excellence that drives academics, management, and support system personnel to perform their tasks and duties in the best possible way, and not only for the sake of completing the tasks, is an example of university organisational culture that happens at the higher mental processes. This is a culture of excellence that originated from the mentality and is translated into behaviours and practices.
It is important for the university to identify and recognise its own organisational culture. University organisational culture has symbiosis effects on the members’ mentality and behaviours. Culture influences our thinking, feeling, and action, which strengthens back the culture. Hence, it is essential to stop or change the negative culture in the university before it becomes strong and ingrained in the mind of all members. Concurrently, positive culture should be nurtured and strengthened. Various organisational strategy and operations are contingent on the university organisational culture.
Organisational culture plays a significant role in the survival, development, and wellbeing of the university. A strong and positive culture will ensure the university remains steadfast in its values, mission, and identity. On the other hand, weak and negative University Organisational Culture will make the university complacent and stagnant. The organisational culture will decide whether the university will have a sustained competitive advantage or be dominated by an incurable toxic environment.
Every university has its own culture. Some universities have a commendable value system that usher their continuous excellence and success while there are universities that don’t even know they have a culture and always question “does the university have a culture’?
Mohd Ferdaus Harun is a PhD graduate in Industrial & Organisational Psychology from International Islamic University Malaysia, and is currently a freelance Organisational Research Consultant.
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