Ed Schein- The Three Levels of Organisational Culture

For Ed Schein approaching change is all about culture. Understand a culture and you can understand how to work with the individuality and identity of that system. Understand culture and you can really hear what the system is saying and what it wants.

According to Schein there are three levels to organisational culture.

Level 1 -The Artefacts.

The ways in which system presents itself, both to themselves and to the outside world. Think branding, colour schemes, logos. Artefacts are easy to spot and they give the mood and feel of how a place is. The question is; why do these things happen?

Level 2 - Espoused Values

The official ways in which a system explains itself- the explanations behind the ways in which things are done. Values, beliefs, policy. Again easy to find. Ask 'why'?  and these are the answers you'll get.

Level 3- Shared Tacit Assumptions

Now this is where it gets interesting. This is the hidden beliefs behind whats going on. The heart and soul. A system might not even be aware of these things themselves. These hidden beliefs give the ambience, the undertone to absolutely everything.

And its here that change makers really need to look. Because these shared tacit assumptions influence absolutely everything that happens, but they're not so easy to uncover.  If you don't understand these assumptions then any change imposed is unlikely to succeed.

Ask what's really going on?

You can find out more about Schein and other change tools, approaches, theories and models at The Art of Change Making

Below is a clip of Edgar Schein discussing corporate culture, suggesting that it is the layers of organisational culture that really matter- that  understanding sub-cultures is what makes the difference. Schein tells us that in order to learn best how to understand culture and make change, one should 'travel' and experience as much culture as possible, within all the dimensions of the existing system you are a part of- and externally to it too.


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