How to Make Your Culture Work (Schneider)

I finally had time to read The Reengineering Alternative: A plan for making your current culture work by William Schneider. If you are at all concerned about successful Agile adoption, then this is a must-read.

Before reading the book, I already had a pretty good idea about it thanks to a private seminar with Michael Spayd and a conference session by Israel Gat – How we do things around here in order to succeed. But when reading the book, I crystallized my thinking about a whole number of disparate experiences and open questions.

In this post, I will cover the key concepts of the book. Analysis and connections to Agile will follow in subsequent posts.

Schneider Culture Model

In the diagram below, there are four cultures depicted – one in each quadrant. Each has a NAME, a “short quote”, a picture, and some words the characterize that quadrant. As you read through this, you may will get a sense of where your company is.

How we do things around here to succeed

There are also two axis that indicate where the focus or an organization is:

  1. Horizontal: People Oriented (Personal) vs. Company Oriented (Impersonal)
  2. Vertical: Reality Oriented (Actuality) vs. Possibility Oriented

This provides an a way to see relationships between the cultures. For example, Control culture is more compatible with Collaboration or Competence cultures than with Cultivation culture.

Key points about culture

  • Management guru Peter Drucker says “Culture … is singularly persistent … In fact, changing behaviour works only if it is based on the existing ‘culture'”
  • No one culture type is better than another. The book details the strengths and weaknesses of each so check it out if you are curious to learn more.
  • Depending on the type of work, one type of culture may be a better fit.
  • Companies typically have a dominant culture with aspects from other cultures. This is fine as long as those aspects serve the dominant culture.
  • Different departments or groups may have different cultures. (e.g. development vs. operations)
  • Differences can lead to conflict.

How to make Culture work

The starting point for making culture work is understanding it. The book describes a survey you can give to staff (Example Survey from Book in Survey Monkey – N.B. You can’t see the results). The book suggests using this as a starting point for culture workshops with a diverse group of staff.

There are several suggestions for using cultural information to guide decision-making:

  1. Evaluate key problems in the context of culture. Sometimes changes are needed to bring the culture into alignment with the core culture.
  2. Sometimes the culture is too extreme (e.g. too much cultivation without any controls – or vice versa!), and elements from other cultures are needed to bring it back into balance.
  3. Consider the possibility of creating creating interfaces/adapters/facades to support mismatches between departments or groups.

Well, that’s the book in a nutshell. More to follow on how this relates to Agile.

2016 – Update

About a year ago, I stopped using the Schneider culture model. Instead, I have been using the Laloux Culture Model. Why? It works better for my clients. The Laloux Model provides not just a sense of where we are, but where we might go. It helps crystallize the benefits of change.

In the last 4 years since I wrote this post, I have been exploring ways of helping organizations navigate culture change. In addition to the Laloux, model, I would invite you to check out these posts:

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  1. Great picture! Nice elucidation of an important topic!


  2. Great picture! Nice elucidation of an important topic.

  3. Honestly, I don’t buy this as a *comprehensive* explanation of the success or failure of agile adoptions, but I do agree that the Schneider Cultural Model highlights ONE dimension (or maybe two) of some 50-odd different dimensions that separate organisational mindsets into e.g. Ad-hoc, Analytic, Synergistic and Chaordic.

    – Bob @FlowchainSensei

    • Hi Bob, thanks for your comments. This post is a book review and for sure this book does not have all the answers. It provides a model that is useful for understanding some things and less useful for other things.

      I was thinking about RightShifting and how to put these models into a shared context. But I couldn’t figure it out. Probably need your help for that.

      I also agree that there are a number of different dimensions for Agile failure/success. Maybe it would be useful to map out the key ones.

      – Michael

  4. I attended a seminar @ Agile New England Michael gave. Made a lot of sense. he has a caveat that all models are flawed, that does not mean they can’t be useful. And in this case it does help me understand why certain change initiatives have and have not worked out. And gives me some ideas on what might be practical as I tackle this once again.

  5. Interesting.

    Other than looking/sounding good, are there independent quantitative ways (as opposed to qualitative “feels” right/wrong) to determine if things actually work this way? MBTI is a popular individual assessment tool, do it’s outcome correlate with how a person parses their work culture? [e.g., do people with different MBTIs rate the same organization in predictably different ways?]

    • Hi JE, the survey is quantitative. About MBTI, Jason Little and Don Gray tie that in to the Schneider model. – Michael

  6. Hi Michael,

    I love the diagram. Can I use it in my upcoming textbook on leadership? I would like to request any copyright to use the diagram. Your one word ‘Approved’ might make all the difference here. Please let me know at


    • Yes. All my website content is available under Creative Commons. That diagram has CC on it, so you are free to use it (but not sell it). My request is that if you are using it that you use my company logo, but this is not strictly required. Enjoy.



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