What do we really assess with organisational culture tools in healthcare? An interpretive systematic umbrella review of tools in healthcare

Romana Fattimah Malik, Martina Buljac-Samard3/4ić, Nesibe Akdemir, Carina Hilders, Fedde Scheele

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2020. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ. A toxic organisational culture (OC) is a major contributing factor to serious failings in healthcare delivery. Poor OC with its consequences of unprofessional behaviour, unsafe attitudes of professionals and its impact on patient care still need to be addressed. Although various tools have been developed to determine OC and improve patient safety, it remains a challenge to decide on the suitability of tools for uncovering the underlying factors which truly impact OC, such as behavioural norms, or the unwritten rules. A better understanding of the underlying dimensions that these tools do and do not unravel is required. Objectives The aim of this study is to provide an overview of existing tools to assess OC and the tangible and intangible OC dimensions these tools address. Methods An interpretive umbrella review was conducted. Literature reviews were considered for inclusion if they described multiple tools and their dimensional characteristics in the context of OC, organisational climate, patient safety culture or climate. OC tools and the underlying dimensions were extracted from the reviews. A qualitative data analysis software program (MAX.QDA 2007) was used for coding the dimensions, which resulted in tangible and intangible themes. Results Fifteen reviews met our inclusion criteria. A total of 127 tools were identified, which were mainly quantitative questionnaires covering tangible key dimensions. Qualitative analyses distinguished nine intangible themes (commitment, trust, psychological safety, power, support, communication openness, blame and shame, morals and valuing ethics, and cohesion) and seven tangible themes (leadership, communication system, teamwork, training and development, organisational structures and processes, employee and job attributes, and patient orientation). Conclusion This umbrella review identifies the essential tangible and intangible themes of OC tools. OC tools in healthcare do not seem to be designed to determine deeper underlying dimensions of culture. We suggest approaching complex underlying OC problems by focusing on the intangible dimensions, rather than putting the tangible dimensions up front.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMJ Open Quality
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2020


  • communication
  • health policy
  • leadership
  • organisational culture
  • patient safety


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