Levels of Organizational Culture

Learning outcomes

  • Describe the levels of organizational culture

Edgar Schein presented three levels of organization in his 1991 article, “What is Culture?” He grouped organizational culture into three levels including artifacts, values, and underlying assumptions. Watch the video below to learn more about Schein and his interpretation of organizational culture.

To recap, Schein created three levels of organizational culture. First, at the top of the pyramid are artifacts. While they have been defined as the visible part of an iceberg, they are hard to decipher. Artifacts include organizational structures and processes that are apparent and visible. Right below the top of the iceberg, in the middle of his cultural pyramid is the values level. Values include the “why” behind why a company operates the way they do. It includes company goals, strategies and philosophies that drive a company’s mission. Finally, the level that is the hardest to understand is the bottom of the pyramid which Schein labels “underlying assumptions.” These underlying assumptions create the foundation for the values and artifacts levels. They take time and energy to fully decipher and understand and include thoughts, beliefs and perceptions that establish culture (Organizational Communication Channel, 2017).

In 2019, Granter used Schein’s pyramid idea and added a level above the artifacts level. Here is a breakdown of his interpretation of the organizational culture pyramids:

Table 1. Levels of organizational culture (Source: Granter, 2019)
Levels of Organizational Culture Manifested through
1. Superstructural/ideological Acceptance of dominant national economic regimes. Reactions to social and economic change.
2. Symbolic (Artifacts) Corporate logos, uniforms, rituals, stories, events, “heroes,” posters, buildings, layout, purported organizational structure.
3. Discursive (Values) Buzzwords and phrases, renaming roles/unites, “culture change,” values and culture explicitly espoused by the organization, technical or professional norms and rules. Rules imposed by the organization.
4. Affective and cognitive (Underlying assumptions) Workers’ sense of identity, attitudes towards and feelings about the manifestations of levels 1–3, trust in organizations’ espoused versions of 2–3, understanding of the “reality” of working in the organization. Tacit knowledge of how things work.

As you can see, Granter argues there is an even broader version of culture than that of artifacts. According to Granter, the super-structural level takes into account social and economic change and the influence they have on the entire organizational cultural pyramid. Both Schein and Granter present a new level of complexity to organizational culture and help to explain its intricacies and inner workings.

PRactice Question


Granter, E. (2019). Managing Culture at Work. Manuscript submitted for publication.


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