Handy’s Model of Organizational Culture

Handy’s Model of Organizational Culture

Charles Handy, a renowned Irish author and philosopher specializing in organizational behavior and management, developed a model of organizational culture that has been influential in understanding how companies operate and evolve.

His model classifies organizations into four distinct cultures:

Power Culture

Power culture, as defined in Charles Handy’s model of organizational culture, is a distinctive type of organizational structure that is characterized by its centralization of power and authority.

In organizations exhibiting a power culture, decision-making and authority are typically concentrated in the hands of a few individuals or even a single leader.

This type of culture is often found in smaller organizations or startups, where the rapid decision-making and strong leadership provided by a central figure can be particularly effective.

The core of power culture is the control exerted from the center. It is akin to a web, where the central figure is at the heart, and all decisions and control radiate outwards from this point.

This central figure often possesses considerable charisma and influence, which plays a crucial role in guiding the organization and inspiring the workforce.

In a power culture, decisions are made quickly and responsively, often enabling the organization to adapt swiftly to changes or challenges in the market.

The streamlined decision-making process avoids the bureaucracy and red tape often found in more structured organizational cultures. This can result in high levels of efficiency and can be particularly advantageous in industries where speed and agility are paramount.

However, there are drawbacks to this type of culture. The over-reliance on a central figure or a small group can lead to a lack of broader consultation and can risk alienating employees who are not directly involved in decision-making.

It can also create challenges in succession planning and may leave the organization vulnerable if the central figure leaves or loses their effectiveness.

In a power culture, personal relationships with the central authority can become more important than merit or expertise, which can lead to favoritism and a lack of objectivity in decision-making.

This can hinder diversity of thought and may stifle innovation if new ideas are not aligned with the central figure’s vision.

Despite these challenges, when implemented effectively and in the right context, a power culture can drive an organization to rapid success, particularly in environments where quick decision-making is critical, and the central figure has a clear and strategic vision for the organization.


This culture is typically found in small organizations and is characterized by centralization of power. A single key figure or a small group holds the authority and decision-making power.

Environment Suitability

It works well in fast-paced, results-oriented environments where quick decisions are crucial.

Leadership Style

Leaders in a power culture are often seen as charismatic and influential.

Role Culture

Role culture is characterized by its structured and bureaucratic nature. This culture is most commonly found in large, traditional organizations, where stability, predictability, and well-defined roles are emphasized.

In a role culture, the organization is seen as a system of interlocking roles, where each member has a specific, clearly defined function and set of responsibilities.

The framework of a role culture can be likened to a Greek temple, with the pillars representing the different departments or units, each holding up their part of the organization. The roof of the temple symbolizes the organizational objectives, supported by the robust structure beneath.

In this setup, the focus is on the jobs or roles rather than the individuals who fill them. Each role comes with a specific job description, and employees are selected based on their ability to fulfill these roles.

A key aspect of role culture is its reliance on hierarchy and established procedures. Decisions are made through a formal chain of command, and there is a strong emphasis on rules, regulations, and standardized operations.

This leads to consistency and efficiency in routine tasks and operations. Such cultures are often seen in government agencies, large corporations, and other organizations where predictability and risk minimization are crucial.

However, role culture can also lead to certain drawbacks. The rigid structure can stifle innovation and flexibility, making it challenging for the organization to adapt to changes in the external environment.

The emphasis on roles and hierarchy can also hinder personal initiative and discourage creativity, as employees may feel constrained by their job descriptions and reluctant to step outside their defined roles.

Additionally, the bureaucratic nature of role culture can result in slow decision-making processes, as approvals and consultations may need to wind their way through multiple layers of the hierarchy. This can be a disadvantage in dynamic industries where rapid responses to market changes are essential.

Nevertheless, in environments where consistency, reliability, and accuracy are valued, such as in regulatory bodies or large-scale manufacturing, role culture can provide a stable and efficient framework for achieving organizational goals.

The clear definition of roles and responsibilities, along with established procedures and protocols, ensures that the organization functions smoothly and predictably.


Role culture is prevalent in large, bureaucratic organizations. It’s defined by well-established procedures, roles, and hierarchies.

Environment Suitability

This culture thrives in stable environments where efficiency, predictability, and specialization are important.

Leadership Style

Leadership in role cultures tends to be more managerial and procedural, focusing on adherence to rules and systems.

Task Culture

Task culture is characterized by its emphasis on teams and task completion. This type of culture is commonly found in dynamic organizations where flexibility, adaptability, and problem-solving are key.

In a task culture, the organization is structured around teams that are formed to complete specific projects or address particular problems.

The defining feature of a task culture is its fluidity and focus on collaboration. Unlike role or power cultures, where hierarchy or central figures dominate, task culture values the expertise and contributions of each team member.

The structure is more of a network or matrix, with different teams interconnecting and collaborating as needed to accomplish tasks.

In task cultures, the power and influence are derived from expertise and the ability to complete tasks effectively, rather than from position or rank. This results in a more democratic and participative work environment, where team members are encouraged to contribute ideas and solutions.

Leadership within these teams is often based on skill and expertise relevant to the task, rather than on formal authority.

This culture is particularly conducive to creative and innovative environments, where teams need to be agile and responsive to changing circumstances or project demands.

It allows for quick decision-making and a high degree of adaptability, as teams can be formed, reformed, or disbanded as necessary to meet the organization’s objectives.

However, task cultures can also present challenges. The dynamic nature of team formation and the emphasis on individual projects can sometimes lead to a lack of cohesion and continuity within the organization.

And the focus on specific tasks may sometimes overshadow broader organizational goals and strategies.

Despite these challenges, task culture can be highly effective in industries that require rapid innovation and flexibility, such as technology, consulting, and creative industries.

It allows organizations to leverage diverse skills and perspectives, fostering a collaborative and innovative environment that can quickly adapt to new challenges and opportunities.


Task culture is project-oriented and is found in flexible organizations where teams are formed to solve specific problems.

Environment Suitability

It’s effective in dynamic, changing environments where innovation and problem-solving are key.

Leadership Style

Leaders in a task culture are often facilitators who coordinate team efforts and encourage collaboration.

Person Culture

Person culture is unique in its emphasis on the individual above all else. This culture is characterized by the primacy it gives to the autonomy and interests of the individual members, rather than to the collective objectives of the organization.

In a person culture, the organization exists essentially to serve the interests and needs of its individual members. Individuals are the focal point, and the structure of the organization is often loose, allowing for maximum personal autonomy and self-expression.

Such cultures are typical in professional organizations where highly skilled individuals, such as consultants, lawyers, or doctors, dominate. These individuals often see themselves as unique and superior to the organization due to their specialized expertise.

One of the most striking features of person culture is the minimal presence of a formal hierarchy or centralized control. Decision-making is often decentralized, and policies or strategies are designed to accommodate the preferences and convenience of the members.

Leadership, to the extent it exists, is often more about coordination and facilitation rather than command and control.

Person culture can foster a highly motivated and satisfied workforce, as members have the freedom to pursue their interests and work in ways that suit them best.

This can result in high levels of creativity and innovation, as well as a strong sense of professional development and personal achievement.

However, person cultures also have drawbacks. They can lead to difficulties in managing and aligning individual efforts towards a common organizational goal.

There’s a risk that personal objectives may override what’s best for the organization as a whole. This can result in a lack of direction and unity, potentially hindering the organization’s overall effectiveness and growth.

In conclusion, while person culture offers a high degree of freedom and self-fulfillment for individuals, it poses significant challenges in terms of coordination and goal alignment. It is most effective in contexts where individual expertise and autonomy are highly valued and where the organization’s success depends on the creativity and motivation of its members.


This culture places emphasis on individuality and autonomy. Organizations with a person culture often consist of skilled professionals who highly value their independence.

Environment Suitability

It’s suitable for environments where creativity, expertise, and individual expression are valued.

Leadership Style

Leadership is minimal or decentralized, as the focus is on individual contribution rather than collective action.

In Summary

The effectiveness of these cultures depends heavily on the context of the organization, including its size, industry, and the external environment.

The right culture in the right setting can lead to high efficiency and satisfaction, while a mismatch can result in conflict and inefficiency.

The key is to align the organizational culture with both the external environment and the internal needs and values of the employees.

Scroll to Top