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Three Levels of Culture - Schein

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Culture Levels

Analyzing Organizational Culture:

Summary of the 3 Levels by Schein. Abstract

Edgard Schein, 1992

Cultures surrounds us all. Cultures are deep seated, pervasive and complex.

Yet, according to Edgard Schein, "Organizational learning, development, and planned change cannot be understood without considering culture as the primary source of resistance to change."

And "The bottom line for leaders is that if they do not become conscious of the cultures in which they are embedded, those cultures will manage them. Cultural understanding is desirable for all of us, but it is essential to
leaders if they are to lead".

Edgard Schein Three Levels of Culture Defining organizational culture

With the Three Levels of Culture, Edgard Schein offered an important contribution to defining what organizational culture actually is.

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, yet 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 the way they do. 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 classic book: Organizational Culture and Leadership" (1992) Schein defines the culture of a group as: "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 publication Schein defines organizational culture as "the basic tacit assumptions about how the world is and ought to be that a group of people share and that determines their perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and, their overt behavior" (Schein, 1996)

Schein (1992) acknowledges that, even with rigorous study, we can only make statements about elements of culture, not culture in its entirety. The approach which Schein recommends for inquiring about culture is an iterative, clinical approach, similar to a therapeutic relationship between a psychologist and a patient. Scheinís disciplined approach to culture stands in contrast to the way in which culture is referred to in some of the popular management magazines.

💡Here you can learn more and discuss organizational cultures.

Compare with Three Levels of Culture:  Contingency Theory  |  Change Management Iceberg  |  Changing Organization Cultures  |  Change Phases  |  Force Field Analysis  |  Core Groups  |  Groupthink  |  Planned Behavior  |  Organizational Learning  |  Leadership Continuum  |  Cultural Intelligence

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