Edgar H. Schein
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ABSTRACT: 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 if 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 organizational culture poses a dilemma because there is presently little agreement on what the concept does and should
mean, how it should be observed and measured, how it
relates to more traditional industrial and organizational
psychology theories, and how it should be used in our
efforts to help organizations. The popular use of the concept has further muddied the waters by hanging the label of"culture" on everything from common behavioral patterns to espoused new corporate values that senior management wishes to inculcate (e.g., Deal & Kennedy, 1982; Peters & Waterman, 1982).
Serious students of organizational culture point out
that each culture researcher develops explicit or implicit
paradigms that bias not only the definitions of key concepts but the whole approach to the study of the phenomenon (Barley, Meyer, & Gash, 1988; Martin & Meyerson, 1988; Ott, 1989; Smircich & Calas, 1987; Van Maanen, 1988). One probable reason for this diversity of
approaches is that culture, like role, lies at the intersection of several social sciences and reflects some of the biases
of eachwspecifically, those of anthropology, sociology,
social psychology, and organizational behavior.
A complete review of the various paradigms and
their implications is far beyond the scope of this article.
Instead I will provide a brief historical overview leading
to the major approaches currently in use and then describe 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 in a common conceptual space.
This line of thinking will push us conceptually into
territory left insufficiently explored by such concepts as
"climate," "norm," and "attitude." Many of the research
methods of industrial/organizational psychology have
weaknesses when applied to the concept of culture. If we
are to take culture seriously, we must first adopt a more
clinical and ethnographic approach to identify clearly the
kinds of dimensions and variables that can usefully lend
themselves to more precise empirical measurement and
February 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
hypothesis testing. Though there have been many efforts
to 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
Organizational 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
of The Social Psychology of Organizations, referred to
roles, norms, and values but presented neither climate
nor culture as...
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