Organizational culture is an established area of research that has grown remarkably in the last generation. Just as it is appropriate to think of organizations as including many technologies, it is similarly appropriate to see them as hosts to multiple, often competing subcultures. There is still little agreement on what precisely constitutes an organizational subculture. It is agreed, however, that competing subcultures may be in conflict, attempting to gain adherents to their vision of what the organization should be. Research is in progress to determine the effects of virtual organizations and virtual teams on the creation of subcultures when members do not share a physical workspace but share tasks.
Rather than thinking about culture as a whole, it is more useful to think about the researchable determinants of subcultures, such as shared verbal and nonverbal symbolism. Verbal symbolism includes shared language used to construct, convey, and preserve subcultural myths, metaphors, visions, and humor. Nonverbal symbolism includes shared artifacts, rites, and ceremonies; clothing of decision makers and workers; the use, placement, and decoration of offices; and rituals for celebrating members’ birthdays, promotions, and retirements.
Subcultures coexist within “official” organizational cultures. The officially sanctioned culture may prescribe a dress code, suitable ways to address superiors and coworkers, and proper ways to deal with the outside public. Subcultures may be powerful determinants of information requirements, availability, and use.
Organizational members may belong to one or more subcultures in the organization. Subcultures may exert a powerful influence on member behavior, including sanctions for or against the use of information systems.
Understanding and recognizing predominant organizational subcultures may help the systems analyst overcome the resistance to change that arises when a new information system is installed. For example, the analyst might devise user training to address specific concerns of organizational subcultures. Identifying subcultures may also help in the design of decision support systems that are tailored for interaction with specific user groups.