Edgar H. Schein
Massachusetts Institute of
Inattention to social systems in organizations has led researchers to underestimate the importance of culture—shared norms, values, and assumptions—in how organizations function. Concepts for understanding culture in organizations have value only when they derive from observation of real behavior in organizations, when they make sense of organizational data, and when they are definable enough to generate further study. The attempt to explain what happened to
"brainwashed" American prisoners of war in the Korean conflict points up the need to take both individual traits and culture into account to understand organizational phenomena. For example, the failure of organizational learning can be understood more readily by examining the typical responses to change by members of several broad occupational cultures in an organization. The implication is that culture needs to be observed, more than measured, if organization studies is to advance.
The purpose of this brief essay is to note that organizational psychology is slowly evolving from an individualistic point of view toward a more integrated view based on social psychology, sociology, and anthropology. In this evolution we have absorbed some of the more important concepts from these fields such as role, norm, and network, but we have not yet sufficiently understood the impact of culture.
Even though I have worked on culture as a variable for over
10 years, I keep being surprised by how little I understand its profound influence in situation after situation. I believe our failure to take culture seriously enough stems from our methods of inquiry, which put a greater premium on abstractions that can be measured than on careful ethnographic or clinical observation of organizational phenomena. I will begin historically and then give a couple of examples of where culture
References: Biderman, Albert D, 1963 March to Calumny: The Story