Digital Garden of Paul

Typology of organisational cultures

Organisational culture shaped many aspects of performance. Dr. Ron Westrum displayed in this paper that there is a predictive relationship with safety and that particular kinds of of organisational culture improve safety. Later this research was extended and validated in the context of high-performance software delivery organisation (Accelerate).

Westrum recognised three culture models and its characteristics based on the flow of information in an organisation. According to Westrum it is the flow of information that displays the safety in an organisation.

Power orientedRule orientedPerformance oriented
Low cooperationModest cooperationHigh cooperation
Messengers shotMessengers neglectedMessengers trained
Responsibilities shirkedNarrow responsibilitiesRisks are shared
Bridging discouragedBridging toleratedBridging encouraged
Failure -> scapegoatingFailure -> justiceFailure -> inquiry
Novelty crushedNovelty -> problemsNovelty implemented

This culture is predominantly determined by the preoccupation from the leaders. These preoccupations and priorities are absorbed by the workforce, who then operate with them in mind. It leads information to flow or not. A generative culture will make this information flow and as such leads to the best results. A pathological will not. It is what the theory predicts and what empirical case studies have shown.

Westrum suggest the following implication (for clinical practice):

  • Leadership shapes the culture which shapes the information flow.
  • An open and generative culture will mean better uptake of innovations and better response of danger signals.
  • A generative culture requires that alignment, awareness, and empowerment replace suspicion, isolation, and passivity.
  • A culture of conscious inquire will assits in getting fundamental improvements to the system, rather than just quick fixes.


Westrum, Ron. “A Typology of Organisational Cultures.” BMJ Quality & Safety 13, no. suppl 2 (2004): ii22–27.

Typology of organisational cultures