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Understanding The Organisational Culture Iceberg To Drive Success

Understanding The Organisational Culture Iceberg To Drive Success

Employee perks and benefits play a huge role in ensuring that employees feel comfortable in all aspects of their life

Organizational culture has a powerful impact on employees

Organizations that build a culture of teamwork believe that planning, thinking, decision making, etc. happens better when done collectively rather than individually

Strategy, leadership, and culture are like the three fundamental pillars that define the success of any organization. Only when the organizational culture is aligned with the growth strategy will the employees act and behave in ways to achieve the desired business outcome. And the fundamental duty of leadership is to uphold organizational values and beliefs through their everyday actions and decisions – which in turn aids the execution of the organizational strategy. Read on to understand the organisational culture in a way to drive organisational success.

However, if there is one common denominator that really sets apart the best performing organizations from the rest – that’s organizational culture.

What Exactly Is Organisational Culture?

Organisational culture is the characteristic set of beliefs and values that drive what people within an organisation do and how they do it.  Culture is the implicit norm that defines what employee behaviour is accepted, rejected, encouraged, or discouraged within the organisation. While the policies and handbooks put together by the HR can guide employee’s outward behaviours, the culture is what determines how employees treat each other, communicate with each other, get things done, etc.

In the year 1976, Edward T Hall developed what is called the Culture Iceberg Model – where he explains organizational culture to be mostly like an iceberg. Organizational culture, like the iceberg, has the characteristic of being highly disproportionate in its actual visibility. While some aspects of the culture are easily perceived from the outside, often called the “Surface Culture”, what forms the foundation of a strong culture is often submerged deeper in the values and beliefs of the organization, called the underlying “Deeper Culture”.

While aspects like workplace ambience, dress code, systems, policies, processes, etc. can be visible on the surface, the aspects like shared values and beliefs, attitudes towards authority, competition, underlying assumptions, etc. form a deeper culture.

Let’s now deep dive into the various aspects of the surface and deeper culture and how it helps to achieve organizational goals.

Surface Culture

Whenever you ask someone “How’s the work culture like?” you are most likely to hear answers like “Oh, it’s cool, we have an amazing game room, loaded snack counters, Free Pizzas etc. etc. “or “I love it! There is no dress code, I love wearing my shorts to the office. And the flexi work hours are just bliss!” or any such things.

These are basically the perceptions that are formed by people based on what they see, hear, or feel about the organization.  Such visible aspects of an organization’s culture usually serve the purpose of providing clues about what the organization believes is important, and the organization is run.

Now, let’s explore some aspects of surface culture:

Perks & Benefits

Employee perks and benefits play a huge role in ensuring that employees feel comfortable in all aspects of their life. Be it the option to work from home, taking regular company/team retreats or flexible work hours, perks and benefits have a huge impact on employee behaviours and engagement. So much so that, a study showed that 48% of the people who are switching jobs would weigh perks as an important part of their decision-making – even if the perk is as small as a free snack bar.

Dress & Appearance

Employee dressing style and appearance can have a huge impact on how organisational culture is perceived. It has almost been a couple of decades now since the formal dress code has almost become an outdated concept. Most companies today are loosening up in their dress-codes to encourage employees to be casually dressed, encouraging them to feel comfortable in their own shoes (pun intended) – in the hope to increase productivity.


Technologies used in an organisation play an important part in defining an organization’s culture. They can either make an organisation look ‘cool and savvy’ or ‘old-fashioned and rigid’.

Though technology single-handedly cannot create or change organisational culture, it acts as an important tool to reinforce the culture amongst employees. It reflects and shapes the values and assumptions while keeping the organisation relevant to the next line of the workforce.


Language gives away culture through mannerisms of speaking (polite or crude?), behaviour (formal or casual?), delivery (direct or indirect?), choice of words (clean, squeaky, arrogant, etc.), etc. How we choose to communicate with others can have a huge impact on how the organizational culture comes across to people. Therefore, choosing the right set of words, the right platform, the right gestures and tone, etc. to communicate becomes crucial.

Rewards & Recognition

Rewards and recognitions create a perception amongst people as to what an organisation stands for and what its values and beliefs are. Who in the organisation gets rewarded/recognized and why – represents an unequivocal statement of the organisation’s true values and culture.

Ref: Xoxoday Empuls

As human beings, we all have a tendency to break down complex information and generalise what we see and hear to derive simpler conclusions. Surface culture is that aspect of culture that gets reflected to an outsider – providing shortcuts to identify how things get done within an organisation.

However, what we see on the surface is just a reflection of what organisations are built on deep-down – values, beliefs, and underlying assumptions that drive employee behaviours.

Deeper Culture

Every organization is built on a set of distinctive rules and characteristics that are very particular to them. Though not visible to the outside world, these characteristics have the power to make or break the organization. These are nothing but the aspects of deeper culture that is built on –beliefs and values, bias and coercion, authority and competition, health and well being and various other factors that cannot be easily perceived or evaluated as the external factors.

Here, we discuss some of the aspects of deeper culture that drive an organisation


Most successful organisations involve employees in the decision-making process. They are open to hearing employee opinions and feedback. This has a huge impact on organizational culture.

Employees feel valued when their opinions are heard. A sense of authority is experienced while being involved in discussions and tasks that have an impact on organisations growth, in turn leading to higher levels of job satisfaction.

Health & Wellbeing

Organizations across the globe are increasingly recognising the crucial role employee wellbeing plays in engaging employees and cultivating a strong workplace culture. Be it physical, emotional, mental, or financial – health and wellbeing have a tremendous impact on employee engagement as well as the culture. Happy and healthy employees not only have proven to drive better productivity, but also reduce healthcare costs and churn rate. Having a wellness program is hence crucial to building a happier workforce, which will ultimately improve your company’s bottom line.

Purpose & Meaning

Helping employees understand the organisation’s mission, helping them engage, and making them realise they are a part of something bigger is important for every organization. When employees understand why they are doing what they are doing, it can drive phenomenal results in terms of engagement, motivation, and business outcome.


An organization that adopts open, transparent, positive and strong communication will not only foster healthy work relationships but also reaps the benefits of fewer conflicts and negativity.

A  healthy communication culture is one in which the channels are opened on both ends (between employees and management) for the exchange of ideas, suggestions, and feedback.

Employee Engagement

Organisational culture has a powerful impact on employees. A culture that is positive and open can create trust and loyalty among employees – driving passion and dedication towards the organization. When organisations proactively take employee feedbacks and take the path of open communication to openly convey essential messages pertaining to layoffs, hikes, restructure, etc., succinctly, it reassures the employees and increases engagement.

Ref: Empuls Employee Engagement

Learning & Development

If there is one cultural trait that every successful leader will vouch for, then it is prioritising learning and development among employees. This not only promotes innovative thinking and creativity but also improves the agility of the business to sustain today’s increasingly complex and constantly changing business environment.

Collaboration & Teamwork

Organisations that build a culture of teamwork believe that planning, thinking, decision making, etc. happens better when done collectively rather than individually.

Making collaboration and teamwork a part of your organization culture requires a buy-in from all levels of employees. Implementing a plan that clearly lays out the various dynamics of collaboration, ownership, teamwork, etc. and encouraging and rewarding teamwork regularly can help make the concept part of your company’s culture.

These are only some of the indicative aspects of what forms the organisational culture. Understanding and improvising the culture within your organisation can be vital to driving success.

Ref: Xoxoday Townhall – Collaboration & Teamwork

Final Thoughts

Organisational culture has an immense impact on employee engagement, productivity, performance, and overall experience. Understanding the nuances of organisational culture can empower you to improve the overall organisational performance.

Note: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views held by Inc42, its creators or employees. Inc42 is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by guest bloggers.