Three Levels of Culture

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Defining organizational culture. Explanation of Levels of Culture of Edgard Schein. ('92)


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Edgard Schein Three Levels of Culture Defining organizational cultureCultures surrounds us all. Cultures are deep seated, pervasive and complex.

Yet, according to Edgard Schein, we cannot understand Organizational Learning, development and planned change, unless we consider culture as the primary source of resistance to change.

Furthermore, if managers do not become conscious of the cultures in which they are embedded, those cultures will manage them. Cultural understanding is desirable for everybody, but it is essential for leaders if they are to lead.

With his Three Levels of Culture, Edgard Schein has provided an important contribution to defining what organizational culture actually is.

What are the Three Levels of Culture? Description

Schein divides organizational culture into three levels:

  1. Artifacts. These "artifacts" are at the surface, those aspects (such as dress) which can be easily discerned, but are hard to understand.
  2. Espoused Values. Beneath artifacts are "espoused values" which are conscious strategies, goals and philosophies.
  3. Basic Assumptions and Values. The core, or essence, of culture is represented by the basic underlying assumptions and values, which are difficult to discern because they exist at a largely unconscious level. Yet they provide the key to understanding why things happen in a particular way. These basic assumptions form around deeper dimensions of human existence such as the nature of humans, human relationships and activity, reality and truth.

In his 1992 classic book: "Organizational Culture and Leadership", Schein defines the culture of a group: "A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems".

In a more recent 1996 publication Schein defines organizational culture as: "the basic tacit assumptions about how the world is and ought to be that a group of people are sharing and that determines their perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and, their overt behavior".

Schein (1992) acknowledges that - even with rigorous study - we can only make statements on elements of culture. We cannot explain culture in its entirety. Schein recommends the following approach for inquiring about culture: iterative, clinical, similar to a therapeutic relationship between a psychologist and a patient. The disciplined approach by Schein to culture stands in contrast to the way in which culture is treated in some of the popular management magazines.

Book: Edgard Schein - Organizational Culture and Leadership -

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