Culture defined – by Edgar Schein

A pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems” (Schein, 2010)

Edgar Schein’s approach – April 24

I had a meeting with my director this morning.  Next meeting is on Friday May 4.

I’m supposed to aim to finish my chapter 2, which is a summary of all Schein’s thoughts on Culture.

I admit I’ve been confused at some point.  In the last several days, I’ve had a sort of mental block trying to proceed.  Today I think I got some light.  Here let me summarize some aspects of Schein’s thoughts.

His approach to culture.

1.  Structural analysis of culture
- Artifacts
- Espoused values
- Basic assumptions

2.  Contents of culture, which he also called “dimensions”
- Nature of the content (dimensions)
- Position along the dimensions

Thus, if one aspect of content is the use of “authority” within an organization, this is the “nature”, but its position can refer to whether the organization is either “authoritarian” or “egalitarian”, sort of situation at both ends of the spectrum.

What is the origin of the contents of culture?  In deciding this Schein opted to consider it from a functional perspective.  Every organization faces the two archetypical problems external adaptation and internal integration.

As Schein defines the level of “Basic assumptions” as the essence of culture, every organization thus develops Shared Basic Assumptions around these two dimensions.

a) Problems of External Adaptation – adapting to its external environment in order to survive and growth.  This is concerned with developing a common consensus on  issues related to mission and strategy, goals, means to achieve the goals, how to measure attainment of goals, and means to correct deviations from goals.

b) Problems of Internal Integration – harnessing all members and their characteristics towards organizational survival and growth.  This include developing a common language and conceptual categories; determining group boundaries and the criteria for inclusion and exclusion from the group; distribution of power, authority and status; developing norms of trust, intimacy, friendship and love; defining and allocating rewards and punishments; explaining the “unexplainable”.

3.  Deeper Cultural Assumptions

Schein mentions that one of the most significant reasons why there is so much inaccuracies in the definitions of culture is that often practitioners do not distinguish between whether they are treating of culture within an organization (organizational culture) , within an entire country, or an ethnic group (macro culture), within an occupational distribution (occupational culture); within a subset of occupational groups in an organization (subculture) or within a group in an organization brought together for a specific task (micro culture).

The shared basic assumptions mentioned in ’2′ above are therefore to be found in relation to the organization.

We treat here now of “deeper culture assumptions” that are to be found at the Macro level (country, ethnic group, etc).

These include:

- Assumptions about the nature of reality and truth
- Assumptions about the nature of time
- Assumptions about the nature of space
- Assumptions about the nature of human nature, human activity and human relationships.