Schein Model Organizational Culture Essay

Edgar Schein Model of Organization Culture

The term “Organization culture” refers to the values and beliefs of an organization. The principles, ideologies as well as policies followed by an organization form its culture. It is the culture of the workplace which decides the way individuals interact with each other and behave with people outside the company. The employees must respect their organization’s culture for them to deliver their level best and enjoy their work. Problems crop up when individuals are unable to adjust to a new work culture and thus feel demotivated and reluctant to perform.

Who is Edgar Schein ?

Edgar Henry Schein born in 1928 is a renowned professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management who has studied extensively in the field of organization management.

Edgar Schein model of organization culture

According to Edgar Schein - Organizations do not adopt a culture in a single day, instead it is formed in due course of time as the employees go through various changes, adapt to the external environment and solve problems. They gain from their past experiences and start practicing it everyday thus forming the culture of the workplace. The new employees also strive hard to adjust to the new culture and enjoy a stress free life.

Schein believed that there are three levels in an organization culture.

  1. Artifacts

    The first level is the characteristics of the organization which can be easily viewed, heard and felt by individuals collectively known as artifacts. The dress code of the employees, office furniture, facilities, behavior of the employees, mission and vision of the organization all come under artifacts and go a long way in deciding the culture of the workplace.

    Organization A

    • No one in organization A is allowed to dress up casually.
    • Employees respect their superiors and avoid unnecessary disputes.
    • The individuals are very particular about the deadlines and ensure the tasks are accomplished within the stipulated time frame.

    Organization B

    • The employees can wear whatever they feel like.
    • Individuals in organization B are least bothered about work and spend their maximum time loitering and gossiping around.
    • The employees use derogatory remarks at the work place and pull each other into controversies.

    In the above case, employees in organization A wear dresses that exude professionalism and strictly follow the policies of the organization. On the other hand, employees in organization B have a laid back attitude and do not take their work seriously. Organization A follows a strict professional culture whereas Organization B follows a weak culture where the employees do not accept the things willingly.

  2. Values

    The next level according to Schein which constitute the organization culture is the values of the employees. The values of the individuals working in the organization play an important role in deciding the organization culture. The thought process and attitude of employees have deep impact on the culture of any particular organization. What people actually think matters a lot for the organization? The mindset of the individual associated with any particular organization influences the culture of the workplace.

  3. Assumed Values

    The third level is the assumed values of the employees which can’t be measured but do make a difference to the culture of the organization. There are certain beliefs and facts which stay hidden but do affect the culture of the organization. The inner aspects of human nature come under the third level of organization culture. Organizations where female workers dominate their male counterparts do not believe in late sittings as females are not very comfortable with such kind of culture. Male employees on the other hand would be more aggressive and would not have any problems with late sittings. The organizations follow certain practices which are not discussed often but understood on their own. Such rules form the third level of the organization culture.

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Culture is a powerful force within organizations. Organizational culture shapes decisions, determines priorities, influences behavior and affects outcomes (Miner, 2007). It can be a source of organizational strength or a factor in organizational weakness. The concept of organizational culture has its roots in anthropology. Although the term culture has been given meaning a lot of times, most meanings make out that culture is historically and socially built; embraces common practices, values and knowledge that veteran members of an organization pass on to newcomers by way of socialization; and is utilized to form a group’s progression, material yield, and aptitude to endure. The definition of culture includes both structural influences such as the technologies of production, market conditions, and organizational and industry regulations, and human variables such as leadership style, socialization processes, communication norms and the social construction of values.

Organizational culture has attracted limited attention in the past. Not until the early 1980s did practitioners and the academic community accept the idea that organizational culture was worthy of study. Research summarized by Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman, Stanley Davis, William Ouchi, Edgar Schein, and a few others has provided a beginning foundation for future, more rigorous research.

At this point, available research supports the idea that organizational culture exists, is a powerful factor in worker behavior, and differs within each organization, even within divisions and sections of the same organization. It may be useful in helping managers and workers understand their roles and relative success in the dynamics of the organization. In this paper, focus will be on Edgar Schein, being one of the most quoted analysts of corporate culture.

Edgar Schein’s initial concern was with the change process and with his own particular approach to organization development (process consultation). Only as it became evident that this approach would benefit from a broader theoretical concept did he delve into the area of leadership and its role in influencing organizational culture (Schein, 2004).

In the end what emerged was a comprehensive culture theory in which top managers were significant actors. In this theory, culture served in a number o respects as a substitute for hierarchy (and thus bureaucracy). Thus Schein’s theory offers an alternative to bureaucracy not only in its early and continuing focus on organizational development, but in its subsequent elaboration of the culture construct as a tool for human organization that can in certain respects replace aspects of bureaucracy.

Theoretical Basics

As one of the many ideas in organization and management theory, organizational culture theory draws together ideas and research findings based on assumptions radically different from mechanistic models. It is strikingly non-quantitative in its orientations, eschewing ‘scientific’ research as not necessarily helpful in understanding how organizations work. In some ways, the organizational culture research amassed to date represents kind of a counter culture within organization and management theory.

Yet, it too draws on older models for legitimacy. It is akin to human-relations theory, relies on the humanistic perspective, is integrative in ways Follett would approve, and is systems oriented. Its break with the past may be seen most clearly in its rejection of totally rational, self-correcting or self-correctable systems, where objectives are somehow known by all organization members and coordinated work efforts expected and predictable (Ashkanasy, Wilderom and Peterson, 2004).

Rather, organizational culture theory gives dominance to personal perspectives, traditional modes of behavior, accepted beliefs and values, and basic assumptions. To predict worker (or system) behavior, the manager must understand and direct the evolving culture of the individuals and the various groups (subcultures) making up the organization. Knowledge of the formal organization – its rules, technology, clients and goals – provides only clues to the true character of the organization and its future actions.

Only a full understanding of the prevailing culture can assure success in predicting and controlling future behavior. Even more clearly than had climate research, organizational culture theory indicates that managing organizations is not the same as managing a set of discrete individuals or even departments. By moving attention away from the self to the collective, it has helped overcome the excessive focus in some lines of theory from which organization studies has drawn.

Unmerged Theoretical Framework

            Since 1985, the proliferation of research on organizational culture has continued unabated. Given the abundance of research now available, it would seem reasonable to expect a theoretical consolidation of what has been learned from all this effort. This has not happened – for good reasons. Organizational culture researchers do not agree about what culture is or why it should be studied.

They do not study the same phenomena. They do not approach the phenomena they do study from the same theoretical, epistemological or methodological points of view. These fundamental disagreements have impeded the exchange of ideas and the ability to build upon others’ empirical work. It has therefore been difficult to clarify what has been learned or how cultural studies contribute to other traditions of inquiry. No wonder, then that research on organizational culture has sometimes been dismissed as a dead end, as unrelated to mainstream theory, or as a fad that has failed to deliver its promises.

            What is needed is a theoretical framework that can capture the chief similarities and differences amongst the range of advances towards organizational culture study. Such a framework, if it is to be useful, must not threaten the integrity of these different approaches by creating pressures towards assimilation. The three-perspective framework developed by Martin and Meyerson can be helpful with this regard (Alvesson, 2002). According to Martin and Meyerson’s framework, three major perspectives have come to dominate research on organizational culture: integration, differentiation and fragmentation.

The integration perspective portrays culture predominantly in terms of consistency (across the various manifestations of a culture), organization-wide consensus about the appropriate interpretation of those manifestations, an clarity. In contrast, studies congruent with the differentiation perspective portray cultural manifestations as predominantly inconsistent with each other (as for example when a formal policy is undermined by contradictory informal norms). The fragmentation perspective views ambiguity as an inevitable and pervasive aspect of contemporary life.

Functions of Organizational Culture

It is tempting to emphasize the significance of organizational cultures for performance, growth and success. Organizational cultures are the product of a number of influences including the national culture where society functions, the lasting influence of the founder of the organization or early prevailing leaders as well as its current leadership, and the organization’s operating environment.

The company’s principal business line, the production technologies it employs, and the market atmosphere in which it contends in are components of the operating environment. As an approach to understanding organizations, organizational culture theory provides a bridge between the structural and agency camps of organizational studies.

Organizational culture as meaning also fills the void of uncertainty and is therefore the primary source of anxiety reduction for members and others (e.g., the organization’s stakeholders). Organizational culture is functional in that it provides meaningful response to the sorts of questions that spread through organizational existence (Golembiewski, 2000).

Organizations share common issues and tasks – from survival in their external environments to managing their internal affairs, from handling crises to inculcating new members, from dealing with growth or decline to maintaining morale, from measuring performance to renewing product/service offerings. Organizational culture in one sense provides the organization’s solutions to these issues and tasks.

What has been found to have consistently worked over time is symbolically expressed and maintained through patterned behaviors and devices as guides to future actions. Through its meaning-infused symbols and patterned activities, organizational culture provides much that is invaluable to organizations and members. It is that which defines the uniqueness of the organization and serves as an organizational identity, or the meaning of who the organizational members collectively are.

It also provides that which enables members to create their organizational identity. Organizational culture is also the basis for order and direction as well as coherence – the meanings of where organizational members are going and how they are related. Knowledge that is said to be the crucial factor behind sustainable advantage and success for companies is closely interlinked with organizational culture (Schein, 2004).

Organizational culture is thus highly significant for how companies and other organizations function: from strategic change, to everyday leadership and how managers and employees relate to and interact with customers as well as to how knowledge is created, shared, maintained and utilized. Shared values present in organizational cultures give the organization a sense of direction so that staff sees how to fulfill their professional goals in relation to the organization’s goals.

Above all, organizational culture provides a profound sense of meaning to staff work. When influenced by a strong organizational culture, staff truly cares about their work; they significantly invest themselves in what the organization represents. Where a strong culture exists, either people buy into organizational norms or they are encouraged to leave. Those who remain identify deeply with the organization’s cultural system, and their professional lives gave greater significance because of their affiliation.


Alvesson, M. (2002). Understanding Organizational Culture. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc.

Ashkanasy, N., Wilderom, C. & Peterson, M. (2004). Handbook of Organizational Culture. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc.

Golembiewski, R. (2000). Handbook of Organizational Consultation. CRC Press.

Miner, J. (2007). Organizational Behavior 4: From Theory to Practice. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.

Schein, E. (2004). Organizational Culture and Leadership. (3rd Ed). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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