Theorists Edgar H. Schein, Geert Hofstede and Fons Trompenaars each offer models that explain organizational culture by looking at the core values and assumptions groups adopt over time. These theories attempt to show how the group's structure forms, how its processes are handled and how control systems are implemented. Their models are often used to analyze all kinds of cultures, including corporate and national cultures.
Defining Organizational Culture
In his 2004 book, "Organizational Culture and Leadership," MIT School of Management professor and theorist Edgar H. Schein defined organizational culture as "a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that 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." Often cited by other theorists, Schein's definition asserts that structure, process and control systems develop over time and center around a group's organizational culture, whether it's in an office setting or among the citizens of a country.
Edgar H. Schein's Organizational Culture Model
Schein's model consists of three layers that build on one another to explain how the core values of an organizational culture shape the visible elements within cultures. Have you ever walked into an office and noticed the furniture, the pictures hanging on the walls and the office staff's attire? If so, you witnessed the first layer of Schein's model, which he labeled "artifacts," or the visible elements, organizational structures and processes that one sees, hears, and feels when first encountering a new group. Artifacts include clothing, communication style, emotional displays, furniture, rituals and stories among other elements. The artifacts you see are a mere reflection of the group's espoused beliefs and its underlying assumptions—the second and third layer, respectively, of Schein's theory. Espoused beliefs and underlying assumptions are the heart of organizational culture. They form over time through trial and error as the group puts strategies and philosophies into practice.
Geert Hofstede's Five Cultural Dimensions
Theorist Geert Hofstede proposed five cultural dimensions that are typically found in the value system of an organizational culture. They are: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity versus femininity, individualism versus collectivism and long-term versus short-term orientation. Some dimensions, Hofstede noted, may be deeply embedded in one culture while absent in others. They are also notable in the way different cultures behave, especially in the workplace. An American office worker, for example, may have a more individualistic attitude toward completing her tasks than an Asian or Latin American office worker who relies more on teamwork to get her work done.
Fons Trompenaars' Cultural Dimensions
A Dutch theorist in the field of cross-cultural communication and international management, Fons Trompenaars developed a model that attempts to explain how people in different cultures interact with each other and face dilemmas. Trompenaars based his theory on seven dimensions: universalism versus particularism (do we value rules over relationships?), individualism versus collectivism (do we prefer working alone or in groups?), neutral versus emotional (do we refrain from emotional displays or not?), specific versus diffuse (do we view relationships as static or are they constantly changing?), achievement versus ascription (do we feel we need to prove ourselves to gain status or are we given status automatically?), sequential versus synchronic (do we multitask or focus on completing one task at a time?) and internal versus external control (do we view our environment as controllable or in control of us?). Even though Trompenaars theory focused on 55 national cultures, business managers in highly diverse office settings can use the data collected in Trompenaars' study to better understand how staffers from different cultures might go about accomplishing tasks and interacting with colleagues.