Schein’s Model of Organizational Culture

Developed by Edgar Schein, a renowned organizational psychologist, Schein’s Model provides valuable insights into the various levels of organizational culture. It helps leaders and managers assess, analyze, and shape their organization’s culture to align with their vision, values, and goals.

Schein’s Model emphasizes that organizational culture is not just a surface-level phenomenon but resides in every level of an organization. It consists of three interconnected layers: artifacts and behaviors, espoused values, and underlying assumptions.

Artifacts and behaviors, such as dress code and office layout, represent the visible aspects of culture. Espoused values are the stated beliefs and values, while underlying assumptions are the deeply ingrained beliefs and behaviors.

Overview of Edgar Schein’s Model

Edgar Schein’s Model of Organizational Culture provides a comprehensive framework for understanding the different levels of culture within an organization. The model consists of three interconnected layers:

  1. artifacts and behaviors,
  2. espoused values, and
  3. underlying assumptions.

Level 1: Artifacts and Behaviors

Artifacts and behaviors are the visible aspects of organizational culture that can be easily observed and measured. They include the physical environment, dress code, symbols, rituals, and communication styles. These elements often reflect the organization’s values, beliefs, and norms.

For example, a company that values innovation and creativity may have an open office layout, flexible dress code, and regular brainstorming sessions. On the other hand, a traditional and hierarchical organization may have a formal dress code, closed office spaces, and a top-down communication approach.

Level 2: Espoused Values

Espoused values are the stated beliefs, philosophies, and goals of an organization. They represent the aspirations and ideals that organizations strive to uphold. These values are often communicated through mission statements, vision statements, and corporate policies.

However, it is important to note that espoused values may not always align with the actual behaviors and practices within an organization. In some cases, there may be a discrepancy between what is stated and what is actually done.

Level 3: Basic Underlying Assumptions

Basic underlying assumptions are the deep-rooted beliefs, attitudes, and unconscious thoughts that shape an organization’s culture. They are often taken for granted and rarely questioned. These assumptions are formed over time through shared experiences and interactions within the organization.

Unlike artifacts and espoused values, underlying assumptions are not easily observable or measurable. They are deeply ingrained in the organization’s culture and influence how individuals perceive and interpret their work environment.

Applying Schein’s Model in Organizations

Applying Schein’s Model of Organizational Culture involves a systematic approach to assess, analyze, and shape the culture within an organization. Here are some practical steps to successfully apply Schein’s Model:

  1. Assessment: Begin by conducting a thorough assessment of your organization’s current culture. This can be done through surveys, interviews, and observations. Identify the visible artifacts and behaviors, as well as the stated espoused values and underlying assumptions.
  2. Analysis: Analyze the findings from the assessment to identify cultural strengths and weaknesses. Look for areas where the organization’s culture aligns with its vision and goals, as well as areas where there may be discrepancies or conflicts.
  3. Alignment: Align the organization’s culture with its vision, values, and goals. This may involve making changes to artifacts and behaviors, revisiting espoused values, and challenging underlying assumptions. Ensure that the organization’s culture supports and reinforces the desired behaviors and outcomes.
  4. Communication and Reinforcement: Communicate the desired culture to all levels of the organization. This involves clearly articulating the organization’s vision, values, and goals, and ensuring that they are consistently reinforced through communication channels, policies, and practices.
  5. Continuous Monitoring and Improvement: Organizational culture is not static and will evolve over time. It is important to continuously monitor and assess the culture to ensure that it remains aligned with the organization’s vision and goals. Regular feedback, surveys, and performance evaluations can help identify areas for improvement and facilitate ongoing cultural development.

Benefits of Understanding and Managing Organizational Culture

Understanding and managing organizational culture can provide numerous benefits for businesses, including:

  1. Increased Employee Engagement: A positive and strong organizational culture can foster employee engagement by creating a sense of purpose, belonging, and shared values. Engaged employees are more likely to be motivated, committed, and productive.
  2. Enhanced Teamwork and Collaboration: A cohesive and positive organizational culture promotes teamwork and collaboration. When employees share common values and beliefs, they are more likely to work together effectively, share knowledge, and support each other.
  3. Improved Performance and Productivity: A well-aligned organizational culture can drive performance and productivity by providing clarity, direction, and a supportive work environment. When employees understand and embrace the organization’s values and goals, they are more likely to contribute their best efforts.
  4. Enhanced Innovation and Creativity: Organizational culture plays a vital role in fostering innovation and creativity. A culture that encourages experimentation, risk-taking, and learning from failures can spur innovation and drive competitive advantage.
  5. Attracting and Retaining Top Talent: A strong and positive organizational culture can attract and retain top talent. When organizations have a reputation for a positive work environment and a values-driven culture, they become desirable places to work, attracting high-performing individuals.

Criticisms and Limitations of Schein’s Model

While Schein’s Model of Organizational Culture has been widely recognized and influential, it is not without its criticisms and limitations. Some of the common criticisms include:

  1. Simplistic View: Critics argue that Schein’s Model oversimplifies the complexity of organizational culture by reducing it to three levels. They argue that culture is a multifaceted and dynamic phenomenon that cannot be fully captured by a linear model.
  2. Lack of Practical Guidance: Some critics argue that Schein’s Model lacks practical guidance on how to effectively change or shape organizational culture. They argue that the model is more descriptive than prescriptive, making it challenging for organizations to apply in practice.
  3. Influence of External Factors: Critics argue that Schein’s Model does not adequately account for the influence of external factors on organizational culture. They argue that factors such as industry dynamics, market conditions, and regulatory environments can significantly impact an organization’s culture.
  4. Limited Focus on Power Dynamics: Some critics argue that Schein’s Model does not sufficiently address power dynamics within organizations. They argue that power structures and hierarchies play a significant role in shaping organizational culture, and these aspects are not adequately captured in the model.

Despite these criticisms, Schein’s Model of Organizational Culture continues to be widely used and valued by practitioners and researchers alike. Its emphasis on the interconnectedness of artifacts, espoused values, and underlying assumptions provides a valuable framework for understanding and managing organizational culture.

The Importance of Organizational Culture

Organizational culture plays a crucial role in shaping the behavior, attitudes, and performance of individuals within an organization. It influences how employees interact with each other, how decisions are made, and how work is approached.

A strong and positive organizational culture can drive employee engagement, enhance teamwork, and contribute to the overall success of the organization.

However, a toxic or negative organizational culture can lead to low morale, high turnover rates, and hinder organizational growth. Therefore, understanding and managing organizational culture is vital for leaders and managers who seek to create a thriving and sustainable work environment.

Key Takeaways

  • Schein’s Model of Organizational Culture offers valuable insights into the various layers of culture within an organization.
  • By  understanding these layers, leaders and managers can assess, analyze, and shape their organization’s culture to align with their vision, values, and goals.
  • Organizational culture is not just a surface-level phenomenon but resides in every level of an organization.
  • It is the collective values, beliefs, and behaviors that shape how work is done and how employees interact.


What is Schein’s Model of Organizational Culture?

Schein’s Model of Organizational Culture is a framework developed by Edgar Schein that categorizes organizational culture into three levels: artifacts, espoused values, and basic underlying assumptions.

What are the three levels of culture in Schein’s Model?

The three levels are:

Artifacts: These are the visible and tangible elements of culture like the dress code, office layout, and rituals.

Espoused Values: These include the stated norms, values, and objectives of the organization.

Basic Underlying Assumptions: These are the deeply embedded, unconscious beliefs and values that truly guide behavior in the organization.

How does Schein’s Model help in understanding organizational culture?

Schein’s Model provides a framework for deciphering the complex layers of organizational culture, making it easier to understand how culture influences behavior and decision-making in an organization.

Can Schein’s Model be used to change organizational culture?

Yes, Schein’s Model can be used as a diagnostic tool to understand an organization’s culture deeply and to guide the process of cultural change by addressing each of the three levels.

What is the significance of artifacts in Schein’s Model?

Artifacts, being the most visible level, are significant as they often provide the first impression of an organization’s culture. However, they can be misleading if not understood in the context of the deeper levels of culture.

How do espoused values differ from basic underlying assumptions in Schein’s Model?

Espoused values are what the organization claims to value and can be seen in its stated policies and goals. Basic underlying assumptions are unspoken, taken-for-granted beliefs that truly govern how people behave in the organization.

Why are basic underlying assumptions crucial in Schein’s Model?

Basic underlying assumptions are crucial because they represent the core of an organization’s culture, profoundly influencing all aspects of organizational life, often without members being consciously aware of them.

Can Schein’s Model be applied to any organization?

Yes, Schein’s Model is versatile and can be applied to various organizations, regardless of size or sector, to understand their unique cultural dynamics.

How does Schein’s Model explain organizational change?

Schein’s Model suggests that for effective organizational change, changes must occur at the level of basic underlying assumptions, as changes at only the artifact or espoused values level may not be sustainable.

What role do leaders play according to Schein’s Model?

Leaders play a crucial role in shaping and transmitting organizational culture, especially in setting and changing the basic underlying assumptions through their actions and decisions.

Scroll to Top