Third assignment: Schein case
Introduction. Theoretical framework
When talking about organizations,
one often refers to the notion of culture. Edgar Schein has extensively studied
this concept, revealing it to be a complex, deep notion that covers all aspects
of organizational life and has a direct impact on everything that happens in a
company. Culture is however not just a notion that is discussed within
companies. Throughout this course, we have learned that culture also applies to
nations, which can be put in different models and frameworks depending on their
perception of time, space, interpersonal relations and their approach to work.
Scholars such as Geert Hofstede and Edward Hall provide useful models for
classifying different countries according to their various cultures. Taken into
considerations these two different theoretical perspectives on culture, this
third assignment should show a good understanding of the ways in which these
two dimensions interact in a real life example. Hence, the Schein case will be
looked upon having in mind both the national culture and the organizational
Brief summary of case
The case illustrates the
complexity of culture and cultural change in a company that was facing a
problem at a certain point in its existence. Schein was appointed as a cultural
consultant at Ciba-Geigy and his mission was to guide the employee’s through a
period of change that the company was about to face. His intervention in the
organization lasted over a period of three years, during which he had the
possibility to observe, analyze and decipher the culture, with its different
levels 22122d312w . He saw the company through the crisis and stopped working with them as
soon as the organization resolved its problems and made the necessary changes
in its structure and culture.
In the analysis of the case,
several aspects could be taken into consideration. One could discuss the
different levels of culture in the company; the way the chairman of the
executive committee, Koechlin transmits and embeds culture, the way cultural
dimensions are being assessed by the external consultant, the cultural change
pattern that the mature organization has to follow in order to ensure its
adaptation and its survival on the marketplace or , for a broader view one
could compare the organizational culture of the company with the national
culture of Switzerland, where the company headquarters is located. This paper
will specifically be delimited to the discussion of the levels of culture in
the organization, the way in which the cultural dimensions are being assessed
and the link between the national and the organizational culture of Ciba-Geigy.
Assessment of cultural dimensions
In the Schein assignment, a case of
cultural change is presented. However, in order to facilitate this process, it
was important for management at Ciba-Giegy to understand the cultural
dimensions of their company, in order to see the way in which they could change
the present culture so that it would fit the organizational structure that was
about to be implemented.
The first step in the culture
assessment process was obtaining leadership commitment. Before taking the
decision of hiring an external consultant, management at Ciba-Giegy has
considered the problems that the company was facing, namely the turbulent
economic environment that required a change of structure. Koechlin understood
very well that culture was not an easy subject to touch upon, so he decided to
first defreeze the atmosphere and introduce an external firstly just to bring
in fresh ideas about creativity and innovativeness in leadership. The second step then was finding the right
place and time for this cultural assessment to take place. Knowing his company
and the way in which communication worked, he realized that an every day like
setting would not reveal much, as people were only used to giving opinions when
specifically asked to do so. Because an open discussion was necessary in order
to bring out people’s values and assumptions, the annual meeting was selected
as the right place for a first encounter with the consultant. In order not to
stress people, Koechlin decided not to openly state to his employees the reason
why he had brought the external. Instead, Schein was invited merely to deliver
some lectures. He was given the opportunity to study the group as a whole not
in open interviews, but through the exercises he did, namely the ‘career
anchors’. Schein asked people to work in small groups and to select the people
they felt most comfortable working with, in this way having the opportunity to
study people’s behavior and reactions in a non inhibited setting. The level of
involvement of the employees was greatly influenced by the participation of
their leader, the chairman, who introduced the consultant and participated in
the activities with great enthusiasm and motivation. By doing so, he made
people feel safe and ready to share with the group in an informal, relaxed way.
The informal atmosphere was determined by the setting of the annual meeting:
not surprisingly, management held these meetings in cozy mountain resorts,
where people could loosen up and forget about the way in which things were done
in the workplace. The comfortable, friendly physical setting was favorable for
the study of culture, such a diffuse and complex notion. During the first
encounter with the group, Schein noted down some artifacts of the culture. He
observed the exterior setting, the way in which people interacted, behaved
their relationships with each other. He did not make his conclusions known
immediately. His assessment continued during the following year, throughout the
second annual meeting and finally during the third annual meeting, when he
revealed his findings and he firstly introduced the notion of culture. This
step is a major one in assessing the cultural dimensions of a group, as it is
the moment when everyone becomes explicitly aware of their artifacts, their
espoused values and is faced with the problem of deciphering the shared tacit
assumptions, the underlying assumptions that govern the organization. People’s
reactions were different; some accepted the findings and some were reluctant to
accepting the fact that an outsider had deciphered their culture with such
precision. But what did Schein find? What are the characteristics of the
culture at Ciba Geigy?
Levels of culture at Ciba-Geigy
Edgar Schein described three levels
of culture: the artifacts, referring to the visible , tangible products of a
culture, such as dress codes, manners of addressing each other, rewarding
systems, flow of communication etc; the espoused values, which explain the why
of the artifacts and give insight into values of the organization, and lastly,
the deep, basic assumptions, which represent the way in which values and
artifacts determine each other, explain each other or contradict each other.
At Ciba-Geigy, the formal elements of the culture have been gradually
identified. At a first level, an outsider is faced with a formal culture
characterized by high levels of hierarchy. The company culture seems rigid, with the boss
playing an important role, being respected and considered an expert. The boss
makes no mistakes, he has the expert status and everyone listens to him.
Communication is formal and rigid as well, lateral communication never takes
place in the workplace, only during the annual meetings when things loosen up
over a beer. People are not willing to share things with each other unless
specifically asked to do so. They probably do not feel comfortable with each
other, are closed and reluctant to share emotions. People do not bond
spontaneously; they need a special setting to do so: e.g. the shooting game
during the first annual meeting. When they socialize, they do it in a specific
setting, where everything was planned in advance, e.g: the dinner during the
annual meeting. Another formal aspect of the culture is the attention to
detail, the perfection in the organizing of events, presentations, lectures:
everything is planned in great detail, agendas are followed strictly and nothing
spontaneous is allowed in presentations. In what regards their perception of
work and how it should be done, the employees seem to value personal
achievement, although they do work in groups. The ones who perform well are
worth of praising, whereas the ones that do not should feel ashamed of their
failure. They believe scientific knowledge to be the only truth; they want to
deliver quality products and do not wish to expand to the consumer market.
People do not criticize each other overtly, as they are perceived to be a
family. When information is communicated, it is always done in a formal,
structured way, from management down to employees. In what regards time, people
expect to be part of the company for a long time, it is their family. Finally,
people place importance on material rewards and financial benefits.
These artifacts reveal espoused
values such as the organization’s commitment to structure and discipline, their
respect of their leaders, their value of privacy ( they do not make friends at
work, they only speak when they are specifically asked to do so), of personal
achievement, their goal oriented approach to work or their short term
orientation. They do not see the broad picture; they only focus on immediate
success and only on their own division, not on the whole company.
The underlying basic assumptions of
the organizations concern various aspects. In regards to their idea of the group,
they are individualistic, work alone and expect to be rewarded for their
individual performance. Paradoxically, they have a family like atmosphere and
they work in groups. Another general assumption about the nature of their work
is that science is everything, and all their work should be about that.
Managers are figures of authority, they assume an expert status, they know
everything and they cannot admit failure, they are resistant to change.
Relationships are not prioritized; their culture does not foster the
development of personal relationships at work.
National culture and organizational culture
Having discussed the organizational
culture in the company, with its three levels, one can now link it to the
national culture of the country, Switzerland. According to Edward
Hall’s classification of countries, Switzerland is a low context
culture that is rule oriented. This fits very well with the company culture
where rules, procedures and agendas have vital importance. Another
characteristic of a low context culture is the nature of communication, formal,
direct and precise, just as in the given company, where people are given
specific instructions about how to carry out the redirection project. In
respect to the nature of relationships, they are colder than in high context
culture, which is again a feature that was revealed true for Ciba-Geigy. Tasks
are performed sequentially; work and personal life are well separated. People
do not feel they can socialize at work; they only do it during planned dinners
at the annual conference. Low context cultures are usually associated with
egalitarianism, meaning that organizations are expected to be flat, without
many levels of hierarchy. This is a contradiction if we look at Ciba-Geigy’s
family culture, where there is one authority figure, Koechlin, who is the
descendent of the founding family. The company is power oriented and highly
hierarchical and there is a parent-child relationship between members. Such a
family culture is usually associated with high context cultures, where
relationships are very close and the focus is not on individual performance,
but on the well being of the group. The high context/low context paradox is
also noticeable if we look at the highly individualistic corporate culture,
where members work alone only focusing on their own division and performance,
and notice at the same time the ability of the members of the organization’s
members to work in teams to solve given tasks. This situation can be related to
a real life example, namely the individualistic, task oriented Danish culture
which places great emphasis on group work in school as opposed to the high
context collectivistic Romanian culture that does not encourage group work, and
that always assesses individual performance in school. The explanation to this
paradox can be the fact that in high context cultures people do not feel the
need to over emphasize the idea of unity and community, this is something that
happens naturally, with friends and is not appropriate for the rigid
environment of a school. Conversely, in a low context culture where people are
not comfortable building relationships and socializing with others, a
formalized ‘get together’ in a neutral environment like the school seems an
easy way of working with others. After all, it is part of their task, so they
have to achieve it impeccably.
If one compares Hofstede’s scores
for Switzerland[1] to
the organizational culture of the company, the same paradoxes will be found. If
the company is individualistic, as the country is, the power distance is very
high in the company compared to the country’s score, which is a very low one,
as the country is very egalitarian. When looking at another dimension, that of
uncertainty avoidance, one notices that in Switzerland people are generally
open to change, but in the company change is perceived as negative, as the
managers, the highest authority are never allowed to be wrong and refuse to
admit failure. This can be explained by the high lever of hierarchy and the
family culture; people live by the old values, they are deeply attached to the
company and do not see any need for change.
All in all the paper revealed
aspects of organizational culture, using Schein’s theories and models. The
culture was characterized by a series of artifacts, espoused values and basic
assumptions. The interesting part was the comparison of the national culture
and the organizational culture, using models elaborated by Hall and Hofstede,
which revealed similarities, but paradoxes as well. This proves once again how
complex culture really is and how an organization evolves both with and
independently from the national culture in which it emerges. Moreover, the case
shows that when talking about culture, one model is not enough to judge a
situation and that often the most interesting examples are those that do not
fit the models. One must therefore always keep an open mind when judging
Gert Jan, Pedersen, Paul B., and Hofstede, Geert. (2002).
Chapter s of 2: Culture: the rules of the social game.
Trompenaars, Fons and Hampden-Turner, Charles. (2004).
Chapter 11: National cultures and corporate culture.
In: Trompenaars, Fons and Hampden-Turner, Charles: Riding the waves of culture.
Understanding cultural diversity in business, 2. ed. repr. with corr., pp.
Edgar H (2004), Organizational Culture and Leadership, 3rd edition, San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass, ch. 12,13,14,15,16