The Enneagram and Organizational Culture

Culture (n.) the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.

Anyone that has worked in (or led) an organization knows the importance of establishing a positive workplace "culture." However, the ambiguity of that term often leaves leaders and workers a bit disenchanted. A bright eyed trainer may pop in to your job and do a quick training to help create more "cohesive workplace culture."

Suddenly you find you've spent half of the day learning about your color type or what animal you and your coworkers are and you leave  wondering the real value of calling your sales team "the wolverines" or the "perky purples" really is.  If you're the person who hired the trainer you may be worndering why you just spent a thousand bucks to get told you were a snail because you don't like to make rash decisions. A snail...really?

Sure it's good for entertainment and Purple Wednesdays were cool for a couple of months but they get old (that and you run out of purple stuff to wear...unless you're Grimace, then you're all set). What does that kind of culture building really tell you about the goals of your organization or its working parts? Furthermore, does it speak to the motivations, desires and multiple dimensions of the organizations people? Not really, but it's an interesting distraction but doesn't produce lasting results.

Organizational culture can be much sexier (in a workplace friendly kind of way), deeper and much longer lasting than simply throwing the term around as Organizational Development lip service. Bringing a trainer in to teach your sales team to be tigers rather than bunnies is fun but is likely not long-lasting, and doesn't help your team to grow in a significant way because the people are not represented multi-dimesionally.

Innovative culture building in an organization can make it a living, breathing part of your organization. However, it has to encompass the vision of the company and the goals of its valuable contributors. Slapping a tiger sticker on your sales teams cubicles will likely feel condescending and kitchy at best.

The Enneagram, as many know, is an excellent tool for self discovery and personal growth, but has huge implications in organizational settings if visionaries can see its benefits as a cultural tool. In organizational development the term cultural discourse is receiving some traction because of its potential to unite disjunctive parts into something holistic and cohesive.

But isn't cultural discourse just more jargon? It is, if you don't apply it, but if you understand how it's already working within your organization and how to leverage it in a way that creates greater productivity and happiness it becomes more than just jargon.

Gettin' Some Culture

The concept of Cultural Discourse was first conceptualized by the famous French critical scholar Michel Foucault. Gail Fairhurst (author of The Power of Framing) explains discourse well, writing: “a really excellent way to think about Discourse is a system of thought with its own linguistic tool bag, or collection of terms and metaphors for key concepts and ideas, and its own categories for understanding themes for stories, and familiar arguments to draw upon to describe, explain, or justify our place in the world at any given moment” (Fairhurst, 2011).

Cultural Discourse explains why football teams talks about “rushing yards”, “touchdowns”, “defensive and offensive games”, “penalties” and “flags”, while the same language or Discourse in a beauty salon would not only be a little strange but completely obsolete.

We often think of culture in a grand way (American culture or African culture), but the value of understanding culture in an organizational setting is extremely beneficial.

If we think about our Enneagram types as a microcosm of Cultural Discourse that we share with other people with our same style we can see how the term can be used in tandem with the Enneagram system.

According to Enneagram researchers like Katherine Fauvre, each Enneagram type speaks in the particular lexicon (language) of that particular type. For instance, any Type Two (The Helper) shares a linguistic similarity with other Twos in how they describe themselves and the world around them.

There are even common archetypal words, phrases, adjectives and expressions that are shared by each of the Nine types, as was revealed in Fauvre’s 1996 Enneastyle research. In other words, we could say each of the Nine types share a common Cultural Discourse that would make communication amongst those types easier and more fluid. Thus the types have an easier time understanding each other because they are coming from the same basic psychological motivation.

If we broaden this lens we can see how the Enneagram typology model in general can be used as an organizational Cultural Discourse, and on a smaller level, within the organization, type can further refine the Discourse amongst organizational members. Many organizations already utilize the Enneagram model to bridge gaps between employees and foster rapport. And in our experience it's a lot more effective than animals or colors (and we have nothing against tigers and purple).

The Enneagram, if adopted by leaders in an organization and transmuted to organization members, can quickly create both a meta-culture (i.e., the Enneagram as organizational culture) and a shared participant culture (i.e., the Enneagram as mini-culture amongst members) that in turn would promote harmony within the organization.

Wait...what about organisms?

Organizations and their members often have multiple discourses/cultures working simultaneously. There is, of course, the larger discourse of the company’s aims, for example a computer manufacturer’s main aim is to sell computers. So the long reaching non-personal Discourse will be centered on computers.

Thus you will get frequent use of computer jargon, and this will be adopted as the company’s overall lexicon. However, within the impersonal Discourse of computer sales, you will then find other Discourses depending on the department and its specific aims within the organization itself.

The unifying elements amongst these working parts are the people in the organization. It is within the interpersonal, human resource realm of the organization where difficulty arises that can lead to a breakdown of the whole organizational organism.

The people in any organization are like the oxygen cells. If all parts of the organism are synchronous (as in a healthy body), then you have optimal functioning and presumable happiness, and they pump much needed oxygen into the organizational system.

Adopting a model like the Enneagram as organizational culture requires a dedication by organizational leaders to the healthy functioning of the total organism. If you do not feed the body it will not grow and continue to repair itself.

Ok, Ok so what's the practical value?

We can now move into how to put this theory into practice. The good part is: It’s pretty simple. The challenging part is dedicating oneself to investing in the self-awareness of its members.

An easy way to begin identifying your organization’s Cultural Discourses is to identify a grand theme that relates to one of the 9 Enneagram styles. In other words, determine what the focus of your organization is.

After you’ve determined a focus that you can adopt (with any modifications you and your team deem necessary) then you can begin to fine-tune your bottom line and begin to integrate the aims of your bottom line with the culture of your organization.

Another important aspect to consider is that your overall organizational discourse should match the product, service or goal your organization seeks to meet. We've made a handy little chart that may help get you thinking about how to translate the Enneagram types into organizational culture.


Type Culture


The Ethical Perfectionist

Meticulous, with a focus on what is right, ethical and practical with a commitment to standards.


The Helpful Supporter

Helpful, with a focus on what is helpful, relatable and interpersonal with a commitment to service.


The Successful


Image Conscious, with a focus on what is efficient, successful and expedient with a commitment to winning.


The Intuitive Romantic

Distinctive, with a focus on what is special, unique and insightful with a commitment to refinement.


The Investigative Thinker

Knowledgeable, with a focus on what is reasonable, economical and intelligent with a commitment to learning.


The Loyal Skeptic

Dependable, with a focus on what is safe, steadfast and preservable with a commitment to loyalty.


The Excited Adventurer

Visionary, with a focus on what is new, interesting and innovative with a commitment to fun.


The Powerful


Confident, with a focus on what is strong, cutting-edge and bold with a commitment to leadership.


The Peaceful Mediator

Pleasing, with a focus on what is comfortable, enduring and agreeable with a commitment to peace.

After identifying your grand theme(s) you can have each department begin to identify their meta-theme(s). Once you’ve established the organizational themes (on both a larger and departmental level), you’ll be on your way to integrating the Enneagram into your organization’s cultural discourse. Once you’ve identified one of the above overall cultural discourses you can then begin to fine-tune.

We can see the how the Enneagram influenced organizational culture if we look at successful businesses throughout history but for the sake of time we’ll look at a couple:

Apple creator Steve Jobs was likely a Type Seven (The Excited Adventurer). We can see his type’s characteristics running throughout the company’s overall discourse. Apple products are known for their innovation, interesting and fun sleek design. Jobs leveraged his own desire for innovation and visionary technology into one of the most successful corporations in history.

Herbert Marcus

Herbert Marcus

Neiman Marcus, the high-end fashion conscious department, store was founded by the discriminating and highly aesthetic Herbert Marcus. Marcus was a likely Type Four (The Intuitive Romantic). The brand grew to popularity due to his strong commitment to being special and a desire to integrate his own personal values into the organization itself. Thus Neiman Marcus grew to be a distinctive marker of class, sophistication and highly coveted fashion for the Dallas elite, and grew to national popularity through the years.

Here are some other successful organizations that have a clear organizational culture that matches one of the nine Enneagram styles. These organizations are but a few examples of how the culture of the organization match its product aims. They have developed a clear vision and thus developed a cohesive image based on that vision.

Type One (The Ethical Perfectionist)

Martha Stewart Inc, The Container Store

Type Two (The Helpful Supporter)

Nordstrom, CVS, The United Way

Type Three (The Successful Achiever)

Nike, McDonalds

Type Four (The Intuitive Romantic)

Vogue, Hewlett Packard

Type Five (The Investigative Thinker)

Google, IBM, Intel, Yahoo

Type Six (The Loyal Skeptic)

Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Securities

Type Seven (The Excited Adventurer)

Apple, Zappos, E! Entertainment Television, Bravo Television

Type Eight (The Powerful Protector)

Caterpillar, Trump Enterprises, Exxon Mobil

Type Nine (The Peaceful Mediator)

UPS, Disney

Of course your organization doesn’t have to morph into the CEOs personal Enneagram style (although this is very common), but it should reflect the vision of its leaders. It should also reflect the practical goals of the organization, a security company may not want to adopt the culture of Type Nine because it might be a bit too relaxed, whereas a Sixish culture (based on safety and dependability) would be more beneficial.

Our next blog in our Business series will cover how the concept of cultural discourse can be applied at the human level so you don't have to keep calling the sales team the wolverines...

Stay tuned!