Employee Experience

Organizational Anthropology – UPDATED 2022 – A Complete Guide

4 Mins read

With the increasing significance of inclusiveness in the corporate world, the emphasis on organizational culture is higher than ever before. Corporate culture is defined as the underlying values, beliefs, assumptions, and methods of interacting that contribute to the social and psychological environment in an organization. 

Corporate anthropologists have started focusing on the cultural side of the businesses. Anthropology works as an analytical aid to understand the meaning and behaviours making up organizational culture. These concepts help understand how workplace culture relates to efficacy. Let us try to learn more about organizational anthropology and understand how to get started with this approach. 

Organizational Anthropology – A Complete Guide

According to anthropology, an organization is a purpose-driven group that develops, over time, a shared culture, a set of beliefs, a way of thinking, and a set of values. Organizational anthropology is a practice-oriented method of applying anthropological theories and practices to identify and resolve real problems encountered in day-to-day organizational operations. 

Organizational anthropology has become more important today as workplaces are changing fundamentally with remote work, globalization, technology, cultural movements, and more, leading to a diverse workforce. As diversity is being embraced, organizations are starting to realize the need for a toolkit to work effectively in the evolving dynamic. 

As a result of globalization, more boundaries need to be crossed in an organization which means anthropology becomes more important. Organizational anthropology should provide the tools to understand how people view the world and how they are likely to respond to new ideas. 

Business & Organizational Anthropology – Getting Started

business and organizational anthropology

Business anthropology refers to the study of companies and actors interacting and residing within them. This type of approach focuses on discovering pain points and fixing them in an attempt to make the organization more efficient. It involves interviewing employers, employees, and consumers to find out where the problem arises. 

A major aspect of organizational anthropology is the institutional theory that comprises studying actors, interactions, and perspectives within organizations. While it may seem to be complicated at first, once broken down into simple steps, it can be easily applied to any business. Actors are those who perform actions to reach specific goals. An actor in an organization is anybody from the CEO to a client. Goals can be different but a consideration of these helps understand how the organization works.

Interactions between organizations and their actors affect how it is perceived. Considering whether people depend on the entity and whether there is a mutual benefit would help understand the role the organization plays. Finally, researchers consider multiple perspectives to be able to design an inclusive framework for optimized experiences for customers and employees. 

Organization Culture Anthropology

Building and maintaining corporate culture is a critical task that takes some effort. Culture is key to any organization’s success. The most successful companies share some common assumptions, beliefs, values, and behaviours that bind people together. Anthropology provides an analytical framework that can be used to understand how organizations deal with changes. 

Here are a few concepts of anthropology useful at understanding how culture affects organizational efficacy. 

  • The anthropological concept of ‘Generalized Reciprocity’ is what characterizes the relationships between members for an organization to function more effectively. It refers to the idea of being together in something. There are several forms of reciprocity between people in an organization, either between workers and managers, suppliers and company, or management and shareholders. 
  • Another aspect of anthropology for workplace culture is communitas, which essentially stands for the feeling of strength coming from shared experiences that solidify group identities. Workflows, rituals, and activities creating communitas are powerful enough to strengthen the value of teamwork in an organization. 

Anthropology In Organizational Behaviour Examples

organizational anthropology

Anthropology in organizational behaviour helps understand what works and what doesn’t, how people use technology and tools in their everyday work, and how employees extract meaning from their job. Business anthropology gives a chance to actually know what is happening and why in an organization. 

Anthropology is not an easy approach; it may take time before coming to a conclusion and even question the basic assumptions of a company. This method insists on interpreting the tiniest things and can resist your intervention in the process being studied. However, more and more companies are embracing this concept as the value of culture becomes increasingly prominent in the corporate landscape. 

One of the first companies to adopt anthropology was Xerox after which big firms like Intel and Motorola along with other technology firms joined. Nokia relies a lot on anthropology to understand how people live their mobile lives. Another example is Herman Miller that uses this method to learn how people work in offices. The U.S. Army finds this approach useful at building community and nation in Iraq. A funded research lab named MITRE uses it to assess a lot of things including how soldiers use technology.

How Does Anthropology Contribute To Organizational Behaviour?

It is widely accepted that disciplines like anthropology, psychology, and sociology contribute to organizational behaviour. Anthropology focuses on the study of social groups to learn about people, their activities, cultures, and environments. It enables understanding the core values, attitudes, and behavior of people in varied locations within different organizations. 

Managers in an organization should consider the use of anthropology to learn the attitudes of employees to be able to get aware of future problems arising from comparative attitudes. This will also help create positive employee attitudes by fostering a sense of satisfaction, thereby raising the level of effectiveness in the organization. 

Much of the current understanding of organizational culture and the differences between cultures are a result of the work of anthropologists and the approach. Awareness of the cultural differences among employees can bring better managerial objectivity and a greater depth in the interpretation of performance and behaviour. 

Final Thoughts

Anthropology for organizations provides a ground for understanding organizational culture and how people might accommodate or resist changes. No matter what area of business anthropology is applied to, it makes more efficient and inclusive workplaces by streamlining user experiences and improving performances. 

Further Reading

How To Praise Someone Professionally
Employee Engagement Committee
Behavioral Observation Scale

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Editor-in-Chief at Employee Experience Magazine.
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