Organizational Culture Edgar Schein


– [Instructor] Hello friends, we’re going to be looking
at organizational culture, specifically, Edgar Schein’s
article, What is Culture? I’m looking at the 1991 version of this, in the book, Reframing
Organizational Culture. Let’s get into it. (digital pulsing) We’re gonna start by talking
about Schein’s background, then the competing
approaches to study culture. Culture as a core concept, Schein’s definition of culture, and lastly, the levels of culture, and that’s really what
this article is known for. Most people come away
with an understanding of the three levels of culture. So first, Schein’s background. Professor at MIT at the
Sloan School of Management, he’s written over a dozen
books and many articles on life and organizations. He’s very well known for his contributions to organizational culture and leadership. So, let’s talk about
the competing approaches to study and define culture. First is the survey research approach. This is very common and this
approach wants to quantify and measure organizational
culture, like through surveys. You fill out your bubble sheets, you circle a five or a
four for various questions, and then a consultant, or the person in human
resources crunches the numbers and comes out with a picture of the group morale and satisfaction. And this approach is synonymous
with organizational climate. He doesn’t say so, but this approach is oftentimes
seen as skimming the surface to organizational culture and
getting at some aspects of it but not to the deeper levels. Next is the analytical
descriptive approach. And this has some
similarities to the first one. It still wants to measure culture but breaks culture down into
analytical component parts. For example, it looks at rites, and rituals, stories, and other symbolic manifestations of the deeper phenomena that
collectively imply culture. So, in other words, you have your rites,
rituals, norms, et cetera, and that overall adds up
to culture as we know it. So the idea there is you can understand the component parts of it
and get a handle on that, then you have a pretty good
idea of what the culture of that organization is like because those add up to an overall concept that we consider to be culture. Culture, though, is a big concept, and it’s hard to wrap your head around and so it’s a little
easier to understand it if you break it down. The third approach is
the ethnographic approach and this is the most traditional approach to studying culture. Where the deeper structures of
culture cannot be understood without intensive and
extensive observation and interviews with key cultural insiders. So, this is the approach
that ethnographers take. Culture exists only as
an enacted social reality of the observable
behavioral manifestations of members of the culture. In other words, you can really only understand culture if you watch people live it. It’s a lived social
reality and not something that you can just fill out a
bubble sheet and figure out with a couple of fours
or fives on a survey. You have to talk to insiders, you have to get in there and
live it and watch it happen. This is the approach
taken by anthropologists and sociologists. It’s really the traditional
time-consuming approach where people go in for months, sometimes years into a community, and study it from the inside. Nowadays, you actually see anthropologists and sociologists going in and
studying large organizations and figuring out what
their cultures are like. Let’s turn now to the
common conceptual themes in the article about culture. Schein talks about how culture
implies stability over time. This is not something
that happens in a flash, culture is a lasting part
of organizational life. Culture emphasizes
conceptual shared meaning. So, it’s not just about the behaviors but it’s about how people think, and feel, and process things as a group. In other words, if you’re part of this culture, you probably see things
relatively the same way as others because you have a shared
meaning about what things mean. Culture implies patterning. If you’ve ever joined a new organization and you show up at work and
you don’t really understand all the activity that’s
happening around you, might look a little chaotic and random. But over time you learn
that there’s a pattern and that pattern has emerged for a reason that members of the culture understand. Culture implies dynamics. So, even though it is stable over time, we’re talking about human
beings and interaction, and so there is change, as well. This is a dynamic moving target. Culture implies all aspects of group life. Culture is not off to the side, like you have your accounting department, and your sales department, and you also have the
people in human resources that worry about culture,
that’s not what culture is. Culture is a through and through part of everybody’s experience in the group. So, let’s turn now to the
formal definition of culture that Schein offers. It’s a multi part definition, it’s very lengthy, and you may wanna take
several passes at it. Culture is a pattern of shared
basic assumptions invented, discovered, or developed
by a given group as it, meaning the group, learns to cope with its
problems of external adaptation and internal integration
that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, is to be taught to new
members of the group as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in
relation to those problems. Like I said, it’s pretty lengthy, you may want to rewind and read it over a couple
of times to internalize it. The levels of culture are really the part that most people come away with from this article remembering because it’s relatively visual
compared to the other aspects and it’s very concrete. Schein talks about how our
artifacts rest upon values which rest upon underlying assumptions and that it takes a lot
of time to understand the different levels of one’s
own organizational culture. I think it’s helpful to
think of this as a pyramid where the artifacts are
just the tip of the iceberg, the most visible part. So, the artifacts, according to Schein, are the visible organizational
structures and processes. And even though they’re visible, they’re easy to look at
and see and point to, they’re very hard to decipher. So, if your organization is organized in a chain of command
hierarchy style versus a team organizational pattern, well it’s not easily
decipherable what that means at a deeper level. You can see it, let’s say you have an assembly line, you can see it but what does
that mean at a deeper level? The meaning is not apparent and he said you have to spend
some time drilling down, past these level of artifacts, to understand the values
that go underneath them. So underneath the tip of the iceberg, those artifacts rest upon values. And the values are the strategies, the goals, the philosophies of a culture, the espoused justification. So, these are the reasons
that we’re doing things, this is why we’re driven
in a certain direction, to choose certain artifacts
that rest upon them. It takes a little time to reflect however, so beneath the level of, let’s say you have as an artifact, an assembly line or a
chain of command hierarchy. Beneath that you’re gonna
be driven by a set of values that made you decide to organize things that way in the first place. And what are those values? Well, it depends. Every organization, every culture, is going to be different. Maybe you think that
efficiency is a primary value and maybe you believe that
there’s only one right way to do thing and that’s a philosophy or a justification for those decisions. Those, by the way, are the kind that come out of
the classical management era, especially Frederick Taylor, and those values have shaped
a lot of organizations and they’ve driven a lot of people to make decisions in a certain way. So, beneath the values
we have the foundation, the underlying assumption
underneath it all. And because they’re
underlying assumptions, they’re very hard to get a handle on. You’re not gonna figure these
out in a couple of minutes. These are the unconscious,
taken for granted beliefs, habits of perception,
thought, and feeling. These are the ultimate source of the parts of the pyramid above it, the values and those actions that we take on top of those values. Underlying assumptions are the things we don’t generally talk about and Schein said it’s
worth reflecting on these and it may take some time to figure out what your underlying assumptions are. I wanna give you one very isolated example to give you a taste for it. Based upon everything I’ve read and heard, the company called Amazon is a
very difficult place to work. Whether you’re at the corporate
offices or in the warehouse, it’s a hard place to work, and there have been many
articles written about that. Part of it likely comes from
the underlying assumptions that the leaders have about
people, about employees. And if you listen to the CEO long enough, you’re gonna say yeah, he’s gonna say yeah, it’s
a hard place to work. And look, we’re gonna
drive you pretty hard. And if you got him in a room alone in a more vulnerable moment and you said, well, what do you think about people? Why is it? Why do you have to drive people so hard? He might come away with saying, well look, people are lazy,
or you gotta watch them, or they’re gonna take advantage of you. I’ve heard many bosses
say things like that when you push them on their philosophy. Now, I’m not saying he believes this, I’m not saying the CEO
of Amazon believes this but it is interesting to
realize that beneath his choices for a very hard place to work
are underlying assumptions that shaped his values and the artifacts in that organization. If you contrast that with Facebook, which is an amazing place
to work by most accounts, high level of satisfaction, very generous maternity
leave, and so forth. People really want to work at Facebook. And you push the leaders on their underlying
assumptions about people, in other words, what are employees like, what are people like? I believe that they would
have a pretty favorable view of what employees are like, how workers are, because they’ve built on top
of that values and artifacts that support a positive view of employees. Now we’re only looking
at one isolated example and we’re speculating but that’s the idea. It takes a while to talk through this and it’s hard to get a handle on it because they are underlying assumptions. But those are the three levels of culture that most people come away with and when they read these
writings by Schein, the artifacts, values, and
underlying assumptions. If I had to rank this article, I would say it’s in the top 10, probably even top five, organizational communication
style articles, written on culture. It’s cited by just about every author that’s ever written on culture
recently and for good reason. Schein delivers things in a very clear way but he has a level of sophistication that he adds to it even
though he’s incredibly clear, and relatively concise, when it comes to writing about culture. So, I highly recommend it. Thanks, and I will see you next time.

16 thoughts on “Organizational Culture Edgar Schein”

  1. Feel free to take a look at my book: (Affiliate Link): Case Studies in Courageous Communication:
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  2. I just wanted to listen to the levels of culture for my examinations. This video is really helpful, clearly understood all the 3 levels. Many thanks!

  3. approaches to culture: survey, analytical, ethnographic.
    conceptual themes in culture: involves the ending themes in culture, what it solves, who it involves
    Def of culture: pattern of shared assumptions taught onto others as right as it works
    Shein's Level of Organisational Culture: Artifacts, values, underlined assumptions

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