Schein’s theory of organisational culture

Schein’s definition of organisational culture

Schein (2004) argues that there are three major levels to consider when analysing culture:

  • Artefacts
  • Espoused beliefs and values
  • Basic underlying assumptions

The levels of organisational culture and relationship between them

Artefacts are the surface level of an organisational culture, tangible, easily seen and felt manifestations such products, physical environment, language, technology, clothing, myths and stories, published values, rituals and ceremonies, etc.

Espoused beliefs and values are the next level of organisational culture, including strategies, goals, shared perceptions, shared assumptions, norms, beliefs and values instilled by founders and leaders.

Basic underlying assumptions are the base level of organisational culture, and are the deeply-embedded, unconscious, taken for granted assumptions that are shared with others. Any challenge of these assumptions will result in anxiety and defensiveness.

How we should interpret the most visible symbols of a culture

The most visible symbols should not be the only aspects used to interpret culture, due to the ease with which they can be misinterpreted. Focusing only on visible symbols will result in a failure to grasp the underlying basic assumptions that are fundamental to understanding the culture. Similarly, it is important to recognise that even espoused beliefs and values may only reflect the aspirations of a culture, and not the actuality.

(Source: Schein, 2004, cited in B325, Organisational Collaboration).

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