What Needs to Be Explained?

Edgar Schein

We continue to find it amazingly difficult to understand and justify much of what we observe and experience in our organizational life. Too much seems to be “bureaucratic,” “political,” or just plain “irrational.” People in positions of authority, especially our immediate bosses, often frustrate us or act incomprehensibly, and those we consider the “leaders” of our organizations often disappoint us.

When we get into arguments or negotiations with others, we often cannot understand how our opponents could take such “ridiculous” positions. When we observe other organizations, we often find it incomprehensible that “smart people could do such dumb things.”

Schein-Organizational Culture and LeadershipAs managers, when we try to change the behavior of subordinates, we often encounter “resistance to change” at a level that seems beyond reason. We observe departments in our organization that seem to be more interested in fighting with each other than getting the job done. We see communication problems and misunderstandings between group members that should not be occurring between “reasonable” people. We explain in detail why something different must be done, yet people continue to act as if they had not heard us.

As leaders who are trying to get our organizations to become more effective in the face of severe environmental pressures, we are sometimes amazed at the degree to which individuals and groups in the organization will continue to behave in obviously ineffective ways, often threatening the very survival of the organization. As we try to get things done that involve other groups, we often discover that they do not communicate with each other and that the level of conflict between groups in organizations and in the community is often astonishingly high.

From Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th edition, 2010) by Edgar H. Schein

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