Sub-theme 29: Designing Culturally Sustainable Organizations

Sonja A. Sackmann
University Bw Munich, Germany
Margaret Phillips
Pepperdine University, Malibu, USA
Ann Feyerherm
Pepperdine University, Malibu, USA

Call for Papers


Leaders of organizations in the 21st century face the unprecedented challenge of designing organizations that serve a broad range of stakeholders and are sustainable within their market, financial, physical, and social realms. This requires strategically positioning the organization within the unique intersection of "environmental stewardship, corporate citizenship, product/service excellence, and financial strength" (Michael Crooke, former CEO, Patagonia, Inc., Mission Statement, SEER Certificate Program, Graziadio School, Pepperdine University, USA). Crafting an organization to attain and maintain a strategic stance delicately balanced within this nexus of sustainability demands attention to the complexity of the organization's internal and external environments, as well as a deep understanding of the multifaceted cultural context.

In this sub-theme, we seek to develop an integrated understanding of organization design, sustainability, and culture by:

  • exploring the implications of the organization's context and the cultural mindsets of its members for designing high quality, effective, and sustainable work environments;
  • considering cultural factors facilitating and/or impeding sustainable organization design; and
  • examining the impact of sustainable design upon the multiple extant cultures.

To this end, we invite conceptual, empirical (quantitative and qualitative), and case research illuminating the intersection of the three concepts, as well as research founded in the interaction of any two.


We encourage consideration of general questions, e.g.,

  • What does it mean to be a "culturally sustainable" organization?
  • What is the influence of the multiple cultural contexts and mindsets (e.g., national, regional, industry, professional, organizational, functional, hierarchical, ethnic, gender) of the organization, its members, and its external stakeholders on organization design and sustainability?
  • Can organizations be designed to be sustainable?
  • Can cultures that effectively promote organizational sustainability be "designed"?

We invite attention to specific questions derived from these themes, i.e.:

What design elements, attributes, and/or processes help to attain & maintain sustainability?

  • What aspects of diagnosis need to precede design to assure sustainability?
  • How do extant cultural contexts/mindsets shape diagnosis and design?

What are the key cultural characteristics of a "sustainable" organization?

  • Do certain cultural characteristics and competencies foster sustainability?
  • Which cultural attributes must be embedded to assure sustainability?

Are notions of sustainability culturally-relative?

  • Are some cultural contexts (e.g., organization, industry, region, nation) more amenable to sustainable enterprise development?
  • If so, what cultural assumptions of those contexts foster amenability?
  • Are these assumptions shared across these contexts and are they replicable in or transferable to other contexts?

Can values of sustainability be purposefully embedded within an organization culture? If so, how?

  • If the embedding process is instead evolutionary, what factors impact its development?
  • What is the residual effect of design and the design process upon the extant cultures?

What are the key leadership attributes and competencies required to effectively guide an organization that is, or aspires to be, "sustainable"?

  • How does cultural knowledge and cross-cultural competence contribute to effective leadership of sustainable enterprises?


Haugh, H.M. & A. Talwar (2010): "How do corporations embed sustainability across the organization?" AoM Learning & Education, 9 (3), 384–396
Mohrman, S.A. & C.G. Worley (eds.) (2010): "Organizing for Sustainability." Organizational Dynamics (Special Issue), 39 (4), 289–356
Pfeffer, J. (2010): "Building sustainable organizations: The human factor." AoM Perspectives, 24 (1), 34–45
Sackmann, S.A. & M.E. Phillips (2004): "Contextual influences on culture research: Shifting assumptions for new workplace realities." International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, 4 (3), 371–392
Sackmann, S.A. et al. (2009): "Sustainable change: Long-term efforts toward developing a learning organization." Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 45 (4), 521–549


Sonja A. Sackmann Prof. Sackmann’s research focuses on cultural issues in organizational settings, including culture and subculture formation, development, change, perpetuation as well as cultural dynamics and their implications for individuals, groups and the organization. She has published several books and articles in this area both in German and English.
Margaret Phillips Prof. Phillips’ research focuses on cultural influences on behavior in and of organizations, management development in multicultural contexts, organization design in comparative cultural contexts, and management practices in Caribbean developing nations.
Ann Feyerherm Prof. Feyerherm’s research focuses on leadership development and managing change, improving multifunctional teams, creating learning organizations, negotiating effectively. She is particularly interested in mediation and negotiation of environmental issues and in inter-organizational collaboration across government, business, and environmental communities.