Belief systems include cultures, ideologies, and individual worldviews. The latter was discussed in a previous article. The former apply to organisations of all scales, including small clubs and nations. There are differences between cultures and ideologies, however. The former is normally established and voluntarily accepted by its members. The latter, through its historical association with political movements, is now regarded as a more authoritarian belief system with expansionist tendencies.
One of our growth needs in Maslow’s hierarchy is the need to make sense of the world. If we can do so, then it enables us to make successful decisions when faced with a threat or opportunity. On the other hand, if we are unable to make sense of the world then this increases our vulnerability. It seems likely, therefore, that this need has an evolutionary basis. To make sense of the world we create a schema which models the world as we understand it. This is our personal worldview.
Unsurprisingly, an inability to make sense of the world causes distress, a search for explanations and a readiness to accept those which appear to fit the facts, even incorrectly. This need can, in itself, be a motivator, therefore.
Every organisation develops a system of beliefs which, ostensibly at least, is shared by its individual members. These beliefs cover the purpose of the organisation, how it should function, how interactions should take place internally and externally, the nature and cause of its motivators, and how it should address them.
Belief systems can emerge through a process of negotiation between individuals, and via a process of feedback between individual worldviews and emerging shared views. Individuals contribute their worldviews to the organisations common belief system, but as the latter emerges, a process of socialisation causes them to adopt it. They may, however, only adopt it in their organisational role. In other roles, they may retain their general worldview, or hold other belief systems more appropriate to those roles. This can, of course, lead to contradictions and distress.
Often however, a belief system is formulated by an individual, particularly one with charisma or high status, and is based on his worldview. Due to the lack of debate and consultation such belief systems tend to provide a simplistic explanation, which can neglect the true complexity of a situation.
Belief systems can also be affected by external factors, such as prevailing culture, law, fake news, media interests, social media, and influential individuals, e.g., politicians, celebrities, scientists, or role models. In some cases, the belief system can be in the interests of the general population, i.e., pro-social. In other cases, it can be in the interests of the organisation only, i.e., selfish. In the latter case, the belief system can, for example, either correctly or incorrectly, place blame on an out-group. Also coming into play can be a “Just World Hypothesis”, in which the fortunate and unfortunate are thought to have brought their situation upon themselves by their own actions.
Finally, if opposition to the purpose of an organisation is encountered, its belief system can harden, become more selfish, and more extreme.