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Subcultures in a Flat Organizational Structure Open Access

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This qualitative, exploratory case study addresses the primary research question, what is the nature of subcultures and their relationships in a flat organizational structure? The sub-question is, what effects do social networks and weak ties have on subcultures in a flat organizational structure? The post industrial economy has become more dependent on knowledge creation while simultaneously becoming more turbulent, competitive, and global (Child & McGrath, 2001). In response, organizations are implementing flatter structures and encouraging knowledge sharing and innovation through lateral, cross functional teams to leverage human capital. The purpose of this study is to better understand the nature and relationships of subcultures in a flat organizational structure. Also of interest are the influence social networks and weak ties have on subculture emergence and maintenance. The case examines a firm with a flat organizational. Data were used to identify and examine two subcultures that became the focus of the study. Within the context of the overarching organizational culture and structure, the nature or characteristics of the subcultures, along with their relationships, were revealed. Social networks, and weak ties embedded within them, were also identified and examined to understand their effects on subcultures. The study offers the following broad conclusions. First it was found that subcultures do exist in a flat structure, however their strength and degree of fragmentation are attenuated by having fewer administrative layers. Secondly, unique characteristics and priorities of organizations suggest that the concept of a single continuum of structural choices ranging from tall to flat is insufficient; instead numerous sub-continuums exist. Third, structure and the adoption of management practices like lean manufacturing have far reaching impact on the pursuit of self interest, accountability, and relationships among and within subcultures. Fourth, it was discovered that supervisory roles have unique characteristics in flat organizations that influence the nature of subcultures. Lastly, it was found that the utility of social networks and weak ties are greatly affected by cultural assumptions and structures within flat organizations. The study concludes with implications for theory and practice, along with recommendations for further research.

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