Cultural Iceberg Model

Kurt Lewin’s Iceberg Model of Culture is a useful framework for understanding and managing organizational culture. It helps managers and leaders recognize that culture is not just what’s visible on the surface but also includes deeper, underlying elements. The model is often represented as an iceberg, with various components above and below the waterline. Here’s a description of Lewin’s Iceberg Model and how managers can use it for their leadership tasks:

Visible Culture (Above the Waterline):

  • Artifacts and Behaviors: This is the visible part of the culture, including what employees do, how they dress, the company’s physical environment, rituals, and symbols.
  • Managerial Application: Managers can observe and influence visible culture by setting an example through their own behaviors and by promoting desired behaviors among their teams. They can also use symbols and rituals to reinforce specific aspects of the culture.

Espoused Values (Slightly Below the Waterline):

  • Beliefs and Attitudes: These are the values and beliefs that an organization formally communicates and claims to uphold. They are often found in mission statements, company values, and official policies.
  • Managerial Application: Managers can align their leadership style and decision-making with these espoused values, emphasizing their importance to employees. They can also ensure that organizational policies and practices reflect these values.

Basic Assumptions (Deep Below the Waterline):

  • Unconscious Beliefs: Basic assumptions are the deepest and often unconscious beliefs and values that guide behavior within an organization. They are not explicitly stated but are deeply ingrained and influence how people think and act.
  • Managerial Application: While it’s challenging to directly influence basic assumptions, managers can indirectly shape them through their leadership actions. They can encourage open dialogue, challenge outdated assumptions, and create an environment that fosters the development of more positive and adaptive assumptions.

How Leaders Can Use Lewin's Iceberg Model:

  • Assessment: Begin by assessing the current culture within your team or organization. Identify visible artifacts, espoused values, and try to uncover underlying basic assumptions. This can involve surveys, interviews, or informal conversations with team members.
  • Alignment: Ensure that your leadership style, decisions, and behaviors align with the espoused values and desired culture of the organization. Lead by example and consistently reinforce the values and behaviors you want to promote.
  • Communication: Clearly communicate the organization’s values and mission to your team. Explain why these values are important and how they guide decision-making. Encourage team members to align their work with these values.
  • Role Modeling: Demonstrate the desired culture through your own actions and decisions. Be a role model for the behaviors and values you want to see in your team.
  • Feedback and Adaptation: Continuously seek feedback from your team and stakeholders regarding the culture. Are the desired changes taking place? Are there areas that need adjustment? Be open to adapting your leadership approach based on this feedback.
  • Change Initiatives: If necessary, initiate culture change efforts that target both visible artifacts and underlying assumptions. Involve team members in these initiatives to gain their ownership and commitment.

By using Lewin’s Iceberg Model, managers can gain a deeper understanding of organizational culture and effectively lead cultural change efforts. This model reminds leaders that culture goes beyond surface-level behaviors and requires attention to the values and assumptions that drive those behaviors.

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