The Concept of Organizational Culture

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Organizational Culture
E dgar H. Schein

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A BSTRACT: The concept of organizational culture has
received increasing attention in recent years both from
academics and practitioners. This article presents the author's view of how culture shouM be defined and analyzed i f it is to be of use in thefield of organizational psychology. Other concepts are reviewed, a brief history is provided,

and case materials are presented to illustrate how to analyze culture and how to think about culture change. To write a review article about the concept of organizat ional culture poses a dilemma because there is presently little agreement on what the concept does and should

m ean, how it should be observed and measured, how it
r elates to more traditional industrial and organizational
p sychology theories, and how it should be used in our
e fforts to help organizations. The popular use of the conc ept has further muddied the waters by hanging the label o f"culture" on everything from common behavioral patt erns to espoused new corporate values that senior mana gement wishes to inculcate (e.g., Deal & Kennedy, 1982; P eters & Waterman, 1982).

S erious students of organizational culture point out
t hat each culture researcher develops explicit or implicit
p aradigms that bias not only the definitions of key conc epts but the whole approach to the study of the phen omenon (Barley, Meyer, & Gash, 1988; Martin & Meyerson, 1988; Ott, 1989; Smircich & Calas, 1987; Van M aanen, 1988). One probable reason for this diversity of

a pproaches is that culture, like role, lies at the intersection o f several social sciences and reflects some of the biases
o f eachwspecifically, those of anthropology, sociology,
social psychology, and organizational behavior.
A c omplete review of the various paradigms and
t heir implications is far beyond the scope of this article. I nstead I will provide a brief historical overview leading
t o the major approaches currently in use and then des cribe in greater detail one paradigm, firmly anchored in social psychology and anthropology, that is somewhat integrative in that it allows one to position other paradigms i n a common conceptual space.

T his line of thinking will push us conceptually into
t erritory left insufficiently explored by such concepts as
" climate," "norm," and "attitude." Many of the research
m ethods of industrial/organizational psychology have
w eaknesses when applied to the concept of culture. If we
a re to take culture seriously, we must first adopt a more
clinical and ethnographic approach to identify clearly the
k inds of dimensions and variables that can usefully lend
t hemselves to more precise empirical measurement and
F ebruary 1990 • American Psychologist
Colrytight 1990 by the American Psycht/ogical Association, Inc. 0003-066X/90/S00.75 Vol. 45, No. 2, 109--119

Sloan School of Management,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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h ypothesis testing. Though there have been many efforts
t o be empirically precise about cultural phenomena, there
is still insufficient linkage of theory with observed data.
We are still operating in the context of discovery and are
seeking hypotheses rather than testing specific theoretical
f ormulations.

A H istorical

Note

O rganizational culture as a concept has a fairly recent
origin. Although the concepts of "group norms" and
" climate" have been used by psychologists for a long time
(e.g., Lewin, Lippitt, & White, 1939), the concept of
" culture" has been explicitly used only in the last few
decades. Katz and Kahn (1978), in their second edition
o f The Social Psychology of Organizations, r eferred to
roles, norms, and values but presented neither climate
n or culture as explicit concepts.
O rganizational "climate," by virtue of being a more
salient cultural phenomenon, lent itself to direct observ ation and measurement and thus has had a longer res...
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