The difference between culture and climate and why it matters

The difference between organisational culture and climate and why it matters

The difference between culture and climate

Organisational climate v change


What is the difference between culture and climate?


Mixing up the difference between culture and climate can be very expensive! Following on from the last post about What is an organisational culture, today I thought I would explore what the difference between organisational culture and organisational climate is.  


Many people use the terms climate and culture interchangeably.  It does matter however and it can be expensive to get them mixed up.  Organisational climate change and organisational culture change are two pretty different prospects so it matters that you are changing the right thing.


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Organisational culture


Firstly, as I noted in the last article in this series the most widely accepted definition or explanation of an organisational culture is that of Edgar Schein:

Shine descries culture is “a pattern of shared basic assumption that have been invented, discovered or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration… that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relationship to those problems”(1)

In effect, it is the commonly or underlying shared:

  1. Beliefs,
  2. Values,
  3. Norms of behaviour, thinking and emotional intelligence
  4. Routines,
  5. Traditions,
  6. Sense-making
  7. Perspectives

That pervade or infuse through the organisation.

organizational culture and climate

The organisational culture is a pretty rich, deep and describable but somewhat immeasurable emergent property. It is a result of the many interconnections and relationships in an organisation.

Organisational climate


The organisational climate on the other hand is the sense, feeling or atmosphere people get in the organisation on either a day-to-day basis or just generally.

You know when you walk into a place and you either think:

‘wow this place has an amazing energy. People are really friendly and it feels positive’,


‘wow it feels like something has happened here. I don’t think these people like each other. Feels like everyone is scared. The atmosphere stinks.’

That’s the climate.

Essentially, the climate are the perceptions and attitudes of the people in the culture.


difference between organisational culture climate

Organisational culture v organisational climate


Schien explains: “A climate can be locally created by what leaders do, what circumstances apply, and what environments afford. A culture can evolve only out of mutual experience and shared learning.”

Obviously the climate and culture are connected and feed off each other.

It should be also apparent that the climate can often change pretty quickly. The climate is  often be based on events, peoples reactions and incidents between people. The culture is less dependent on individual events but tends to drive people’s interpretation, thinking and perspectives of events that occur.

the difference between culture and climate

Getting the difference between culture and climate mixed up.


It is fairly common for people to mix up and confuse the distinction between the organisational culture and organisational climate.

There are many examples  where organisations embark on a culture change programme and then stop the programme once the climate has changed, assuming that the culture has changed also. As you can see above events can easily change the organisational climate.

Conversely organisations can set off an entire organisational culture change programme because they don’t like the organisational climate.

It matters and can be very expensive to confuse the two.

Schien E: Organisational Culture and Leadership. 1995, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page

  • KT says:

    Thank you for your interesting topic of org culture vs org climate. I just wanted to point out that Edgar Shein is misspelled within this article.

  • Ruchira says:

    Very good insightful distinction between climate and culture. Culture I suppose is more strongly embedded in an organization and probably to a great extent covert where as the climate is what one sees, feels and experience on a day to day basis. Changes in climate without underlying cultural changes perhaps are very short lived, sometimes as short as a day or two.. or even few hours!

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