Organizational Culture and Leadership: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 1st, 2013 by bobmorris

Organizational CultureOrganizational Culture and Leadership (Fourth Edition)
Edgar H. Schein
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2010)

How and why organizational cultures, microcultures, macrocultures, and subcultures reveal multidimensional human nature

This is the latest edition of a “business classic” that was first published in 1985. I am always curious to know how a book with a 400-page narrative is organized. In Part I, Schein defines and describes culture as a structural concept; in Part II, he focuses on the content of culture and the process of deciphering assumptions; in Part III, he describes and explains various mechanisms and processes by which culture changes, noting that change in organizational midlife “is primarily a matter of deliberately taking advantage of the diversity that the growth of subcultures makes possible”; in Part IV, he shifts his attention to “the difficult question of how to change culture when the normal evolutionary processes are not working or are too slow; and then in Part V, he shifts his attention again to “many new kinds of work units such as multicultural task forces, ventures and partnerships, and networks. These new kinds of organizations will require a different kind of culture management because they will be multicultural. There will also be muticultural challenges that must be met with effective multicultural leadership.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to indicate the scope of Schein’s coverage.

o Five Examples of How Culture Helps to Illuminate Organizational Situations (Pages 9-11)
o Culture Formally Defined, and Culture Content (18-19)
o Basic Underlying Assumptions (27-32)
o Three Generic Subcultures: Operating, Engineering/Design, and Executive (57-67)
o Shared Assumptions About Mission, Strategy, and Goals (74-85)
o Creating a Common Language and Conceptual Categories, and, Defining Group Boundaries and Identity (93-100)
o Levels of Reality (117-119)
o Subculture Variations: Planning Time and Development Time (129-130)
o Assumptions About the Nature of Space (135-137)
o Assumptions About Appropriate Human Activity (146-149)
o Basic Characteristics of Role Relationships (152-154)
o Group Formation Through Originating and Marker Events (198-204)
o Culture Beginnings Through Founder/Leader Actions (219-231)
o Transition to Midlife: Problems of Succession (280-283)
o Rapid Deciphering — A Multistep [Ten Step] Group Process (315-325)

As authors of “classic” business books often do, Schein provides early on (Page 7) the essence of what he will explain in the 21 chapters organized within five Parts: “Culture is an abstraction, yet the forces that are created in social and organizational situations deriving from culture are powerful. If we don’t understand the operation of these forces, we become victim to them. Cultural forces are powerful because they operate outside of our awareness. We need to understand them not only because of their power but also because they help to explain many of our puzzling and frustrating experiences in social and organizational life. Most importantly, understanding cultural forces enables us to understand ourselves better.” These are among the dimensions of exploration within which Schein guides his reader during a journey of discovery.

He concludes the Fourth Edition this way: “We have examined cultures, microcultures, macrocultures, and subcultures. The details and content of what goes on varies enormously, but the fundamental cultural dynamics are much the same at every level. If we remember that culture is our learned solution to making sense of the world, to stabilizing it, and to avoiding the anxiety that comes with social chaos, then we have taken the first important step toward deeper cultural understanding.”

* * *

For those who are curious to know more about the author, here is a brief bio provided by Amazon: “Edgar Henry Schein (born 1928), a former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, has made a notable mark on the field of organizational development in many areas, including career development, group process consultation, and organizational culture. He is generally credited with inventing the term “corporate culture.”

His published works include these three classics: Organizational Psychology, 3rd Edition (1979), Process Consultation: Its Role in Organization Development, Volume 1 (1988), Process Consultation Revisited: Building the Helping Relationship (1998), The Corporate Culture Survival Guide (2009), Organizational Culture and Leadership, Fourth Edition (2010), and most recently, Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help (2011).

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