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The Competing Values Framework Explained

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Developed in the early 1980s by Robert E. Quinn and John Rohrbaugh, this powerful model sheds light on the fundamental values that shape diverse leadership behaviors and organizational approaches. Let's explore what the CVF entails, how it operates, its historical roots, famous tests based on it, and why it holds such significance.

What is the Competing Values Framework (CVF)?

The Competing Values Framework serves as a comprehensive map, navigating the complex terrain of leadership styles and organizational structures. It recognizes the inherent contradictions and opposing forces that arise when managing and leading a team or company. By examining these contrasting values, the CVF empowers leaders to make informed decisions that align with their organization's unique needs and goals.

The competing values framework shows four quadrants of behavior and organizational conflicts.. This image is from Itamar Goldminz.
Competing Values Framework

Source: The best version of the graphic I could find is from Itamar Goldminz in his article on the Culture Contract.

How does the Competing Values Framework work?

The CVF is presented as a matrix, featuring two intersecting axes: the horizontal and vertical. Each axis represents a set of opposing organizational values, leading to four distinct quadrants.

On the horizontal axis, we find the Internal Focus versus External Focus contrast. An internal focus is characterized by a strong emphasis on employees, culture, and process improvement. In contrast, an external focus centers on customers, competition, and market demands.

On the vertical axis, the Stability versus Flexibility contrast comes into play. Stability-oriented organizations prioritize structure, control, and efficiency, while flexibility-oriented ones prioritize adaptability, innovation, and change.

Combining these axes creates four distinct quadrants, each representing a dominant management approach:

  1. Collaborate: This quadrant embodies an internal focus and a flexibility-oriented approach. Organizations that foster collaboration value teamwork, creativity, and continuous improvement. They encourage a supportive and innovative culture, empowering employees to explore new ideas and approaches.

  2. Create: The "Create" quadrant epitomizes an external focus and a flexibility-driven approach. Organizations in this quadrant value entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and market responsiveness. They thrive on innovation and are always looking to seize new opportunities.

  3. Control: In this quadrant, an internal focus combines with a stability-oriented approach. Control-focused organizations emphasize efficiency, precision, and process optimization. They excel in maintaining stability and are process-driven in their operations.

  4. Compete: Representing an external focus and stability orientation, the "Compete" quadrant revolves around achieving market dominance, outperforming competitors, and delivering high-quality products and services.


The genesis of the CVF can be traced back to Quinn and Rohrbaugh's pioneering research in the early 1980s. Drawing inspiration from the field of organizational culture and effectiveness, they sought to develop a framework that would bridge the gaps between different management theories. Their work emphasized the importance of acknowledging the inherent paradoxes in leadership and management, inspiring a new wave of organizational theory.

Tests based on the Competing Values Framework

Several widely-known tests have been developed based on the CVF, offering valuable assessment tools for individuals and organizations:

  1. Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI): Developed by Cameron and Quinn, this survey assesses an organization's prevailing culture by measuring its alignment with the four CVF quadrants. It helps leaders identify areas for improvement and align their organizational culture with their strategic objectives.

  2. Organizational Effectiveness Inventory (OEI): This assessment evaluates organizational effectiveness through the lens of the Competing Values Framework. It helps leaders identify potential barriers to success and design strategies to enhance overall performance.

  3. Leadership Effectiveness Analysis (LEA): The LEA is designed to assess leadership behaviors and their impact on organizational outcomes. It helps leaders gain insights into their strengths and areas for improvement, providing them with valuable feedback on how their actions influence the organization and its members.

The Significance of the Competing Values Framework

The CVF's significance lies in its capacity to challenge conventional leadership approaches. By acknowledging the inherent paradoxes in management, it encourages leaders to embrace a more holistic and adaptable perspective. Plus, it enables organizations to align their values, culture, and strategies, thereby enhancing overall performance and fostering a more resilient and agile work environment.

The Competing Values Framework is a powerful and insightful model that equips leaders and organizations with the tools to navigate the complexities of modern business successfully. By embracing the contradictions inherent in leadership and management, the CVF provides a roadmap for unlocking the full potential of teams and organizations, ultimately leading to lasting success in today's rapidly evolving world.

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