Edgar Schein’s Culture Model

Edgar Schein’s Culture Model is a framework for understanding and analysing organisational culture.
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What is Edgar Schein’s Culture Model?

Edgar Schein’s culture model is a framework that helps organisations explore, understand and develop their culture. Schein, a renowned organisational psychologist, developed this model to highlight the various elements that shape an organisation’s culture and, more specifically, to look at the hidden influences that ultimately drive how an organisation behaves. The model consists of three key components: artefacts, espoused values, and underlying assumptions.

Edgar Schein is a renowned organisational psychologist and professor emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He is known for his work in the field of organisational culture and leadership, and has authored numerous books and articles on the topic.

Here he is talking about Humble Enquiry.

Schein is also a recipient of several awards for his contributions to the field of organisational development.

Here’s a few things he’s well-known for:

  1. Developing the concept of organisational culture and identifying its three levels: artefacts, espoused values, and underlying assumptions.
  2. Introducing the concept of career anchors and helping individuals identify their core values and skills to guide their career choices.
  3. Writing several influential books, such as “Organisational Culture and Leadership” and “Career Anchors: The Changing Nature of Careers.”
  4. Conducting extensive research on the process of organisational change and the role of leadership in facilitating it.
  5. Advancing the field of process consultation, a method of helping organisations improve their problem-solving and decision-making processes.

How is Edgar Schein’s Culture Model Used?

Organisations can use Schein’s culture model to gain deeper insights into their culture, identify areas for improvement, and align their values with the desired outcomes. By exploring and understanding the three components in this model, organisations can develop strategies to enhance their culture and create a more positive work environment.

Schien’s model is useful in going beyond the obvious and digging into the core motivators that fuel how an organisation behaves. It’s focus is on causal factors rather than more obvious symptoms – meaning, when used effectively, it can offer more sustainable and impactful solutions to improving culture.

Although traditionally used to look at a whole organisation’s culture, it can also be helpful when exploring leadership groups, departments or teams. Essentially it’s an exploratory method to uncover the motivations and drivers that shape how a group of people function.

How to Use Edgar Schein’s Culture Model

1. Artefacts

Easy to observe, collect and analyse, but not easy to deduce or interpret from.

Edgar Schein's Culture Model - 1. Artefacts

Artefacts are the visible elements of an organisation’s culture, including its physical environment, symbols, and language. Researching artefacts involves observing and analysing the organisation’s physical spaces, such as office layouts, decorations, and dress codes. Additionally, examining the language used in meetings, emails, and documents can provide valuable insights into the organisation’s culture.

Artefacts can tell you a lot about an organisation’s values and priorities. For example, if an organisation has an open-office layout with collaborative spaces, it likely values teamwork and communication. On the other hand, if the physical environment is hierarchical, with private offices for top executives, it may suggest a more traditional and hierarchical culture.

Also useful are the behavioural and procedural artefacts. Behavioural artefacts include how people work and treat each other, how they communicate with one another and how they work in various contexts (meetings, problem solving, decision making). Each of these offers a snapshot into how an organisation functions, and its espoused values.

2. Espoused Values

Requires investigation and enquiry to uncover and validate.

Edgar Schein's Culture Model - 2. Expoused Values

Espoused values are the stated beliefs, philosophies, and principles that an organisation claims to embrace. Researching espoused values involves reviewing mission statements, vision statements, and values statements. Additionally, interviewing organisational leaders and employees can provide insights into the values that guide decision-making and behaviour within the organisation.

Espoused values often reflect the aspirations and ideals of an organisation. They can provide clarity on what the organisation considers important and guide employees’ actions and decisions. For example, if an organisation’s espoused values include integrity and transparency, it suggests a commitment to ethical behaviour and open communication.

It’s also worth noting that espoused values don’t always match the lived experience of working in an organisation. It’s why this stage is also useful at uncovering the actual espoused values rather than simply the stated ones. This can often be viewed as the current state and the aspirational state. One is where the organisation is today, the other is where it would like to be.

3. Underlying Assumptions

The ultimate drivers that fuel behaviour, decisions and how the organisation functions.

Edgar Schein's Culture Model - 3. Underlying Assumptions

Underlying assumptions are the deeply ingrained beliefs, unconscious biases, and taken-for-granted norms that shape an organisation’s culture. Researching underlying assumptions involves observing patterns of behaviour, conducting interviews, and analysing decision-making processes within the organisation.

Underlying assumptions are often challenging to uncover as they are deeply embedded in the organisation’s culture. However, they play a significant role in shaping employee behaviour and organisational outcomes. For example, if an organisation has a culture of blame and finger-pointing, it suggests an underlying assumption that mistakes are not tolerated and may hinder innovation and collaboration.

Examples of How to Use Edgar Schein’s Organisational Culture Model

  • Company X, a tech startup, uses Edgar Schein’s model to assess its culture. Through artefact analysis, they discover that their open-office layout and casual dress code align with their value of fostering creativity and collaboration. However, they also identify an unconscious bias (underlying assumptions in their hiring process) and therefore lack of diversity in their workspace, indicating a need for improvement in inclusivity.
  • Organization Y, a healthcare provider, applies Schein’s model to understand their culture. Researching espoused values, they find that their mission statement emphasises patient-centered care. However, interviews reveal a disconnect between the stated values and the actual behaviours of some employees. Organisation Y uses this insight to develop training programs and policies that align with their espoused values.
  • Non-profit Z utilises Schein’s model to explore their culture. By researching underlying assumptions, they uncover an implicit belief that long working hours equate to dedication and commitment. This discovery prompts Z to reevaluate their work-life balance policies and shift towards a culture that values employee well-being.

Summary of Edgar Schein’s Organisational Culture Model

Edgar Schein’s culture model provides a comprehensive framework for understanding and managing an organisation’s culture. It also helps with the process of cultural root-cause-analysis – getting the core of issue rather than dealing only with the symptoms.

By examining artefacts, espoused values, and underlying assumptions, organisations can gain valuable insights into their culture and make informed decisions to improve it. Understanding and aligning these elements can lead to a more positive work environment, increased employee engagement, and ultimately, better organisational outcomes.

Edgar Schein’s Culture Model Template

Click the link to download this template and use it to explore your culture.

Edgar Schein's Culture Model


 James Freeman-Gray 

I'm James. A change consultant and organisational development specialist. I've been working in people-centred change for over 15 years. I partner with causes, champions, teams & leaders on projects for social, environmental, technological & human good. If you think I can support in making your change a success, drop me a message. 

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