TightVsLoose.docx - Tight Versus Loose Cultures Summarized...

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Tight Versus Loose Cultures Summarized from Gelfand, Michele. September 14, 2018. The Answer To This Single Question Will Help You Understand A Company’s Entire Culture What do mean if we say an organization or society is “ tight ” or “loose ”? This is an important differentiator for organizations. Tight cultures have strong social norms and little tolerance for deviance; loose cultures have weak social norms and are highly permissive. The former are rule makers, the latter are rule breakers -- some examples: Loose: The United States: norm violations are common (littering, jaywalking, dog waste). In Brazil: clocks on city streets all read a different time; arriving late for business meetings is typical – to get someone to arrive on time you require “British punctuality.” Tight: Singapore: norm violations are rare (pavements are pristine, no jaywalkers). Japan: huge emphasis on punctuality—trains almost never arrive late. If delays occur, some train companies hand out late cards for passengers to submit to their bosses. In a 33 nation study, it was discovered that the strength of a culture’s norms isn’t random or an accident. Tight cultures, as diverse as Germany, Japan, and Singapore faced a common fate: Each had (or has) to deal with high degree of threat, whether from Mother Nature (disasters, diseases, and food scarcity) or from human nature (invasions and internal conflicts). Loose cultures (Brazil, New Zealand) have had (or have) the luxury of facing fewer threats. They generally had the safety to explore new ideas, accept newcomers, and tolerate a wide range of behavior. The same distinction also applies to organizations. Just as countries have practical reasons for becoming collectively tighter or looser, so do industries. Tightness abounds in industries that face threat and need seamless coordination; nuclear power plants, hospitals, airlines, police departments, and construction evolve into tight cultures due to their life-or-death stakes. Industries that face less threat evolve to be loose. In these fields, there are benefits to changing gears quickly, instilling freedom, and thinking outside the box.
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