Cultural Models: Definition, Examples, And Frameworks

In the context of an organization, cultural models are frameworks that define, shape, and influence corporate culture. Cultural models also provide some structure to a corporate culture that tends to be fluid and vulnerable to change. Once upon a time, most businesses utilized a hierarchical culture where various levels of management oversaw subordinates below them. Today, however, there exists a greater diversity in models as leaders realize the top-down approach is outdated in many industries and that success can be found elsewhere.

Cultural Model/FrameworkDescriptionKey Insights
Hofstede’s Cultural DimensionsA framework that assesses culture based on six dimensions: Power Distance, Individualism vs. Collectivism, Masculinity vs. Femininity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long-Term vs. Short-Term Orientation, and Indulgence vs. RestraintHelps compare and contrast cultures in terms of values, behaviors, and preferences.
Trompenaars’ Seven Dimensions of CultureSeven cultural dimensions, including Universalism vs. Particularism, Individualism vs. Communitarianism, Neutral vs. Affective, Specific vs. Diffuse, Achievement vs. Ascription, Sequential Time vs. Synchronous Time, and Internal vs. External ControlProvides insights into cultural differences and how they impact communication, management, and decision-making.
The Cultural Iceberg ModelDepicts culture as an iceberg, with visible elements (artifacts, behaviors) above the waterline and underlying elements (values, beliefs, assumptions) hidden beneathHighlights that much of culture is invisible but influences behavior and perceptions significantly.
Edward T. Hall’s High-Context vs. Low-Context CultureClassifies cultures as high-context (relying on contextual cues and nonverbal communication) or low-context (relying on explicit verbal communication)Helps explain communication styles and expectations in different cultural contexts.
The Lewis Model (Linear-Active, Multi-Active, Reactive)Categorizes cultures as Linear-Active (task-oriented), Multi-Active (engagement-oriented), or Reactive (relationship-oriented)Offers insights into preferred work styles and interactions in diverse cultural settings.
Geert Hofstede’s Model of Organizational CultureExtends Hofstede’s cultural dimensions to assess the culture within organizationsHelps organizations understand and manage cultural aspects influencing teamwork, leadership, and decision-making.
The GLOBE Project (Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness)A research project identifying nine cultural dimensions that impact leadership and organizational behavior, including Performance Orientation, Humane Orientation, and Future OrientationAssists in understanding how cultural factors affect leadership and management practices worldwide.
The Schwartz Cultural Values ModelClassifies cultures based on ten broad values, such as Benevolence, Universalism, Power, and TraditionHelps analyze cultural differences and preferences across a range of values.
The Lewis Model of Cultural TypesDivides cultures into Linear-Active, Multi-Active, and Reactive types, emphasizing the influence of time, relationships, and communicationProvides insights into effective communication and business practices in different cultural contexts.
The Hall-Tonna Model of Cultural FactorsConsiders various cultural factors, including context, time, information flow, space, and social structureAids in analyzing how cultural dimensions impact social interactions and workplace dynamics.
The Three-Colors of Worldview ModelCategorizes worldviews as Traditional, Modern, or Postmodern, influencing values, beliefs, and attitudesOffers a perspective on how cultural shifts affect societal norms and individual behavior.
The Intercultural Development ContinuumRepresents stages of intercultural competence, including Denial, Polarization, Minimization, Acceptance, and AdaptationHelps individuals and organizations assess and develop their intercultural competence.
The Erin Meyer Culture MapDepicts cultural differences on eight scales, including Communication Style, Leadership Style, and Decision-Making StyleFacilitates cross-cultural understanding and collaboration by identifying areas of potential conflict or alignment.
The Hall’s Cultural Factors ModelFocuses on communication patterns and cultural norms influenced by context, time, and spaceHelps explain how individuals from different cultures perceive and engage in communication.
The Bird’s Nest Model of CultureViews culture as a complex, interconnected web of values, behaviors, symbols, and artifactsEncourages a holistic understanding of culture as a dynamic and multifaceted system.

Competing Values Framework

The competing values framework was created by Robert Quinn and John Rohrbaugh, emerging from research into the major characteristics of effective organizations. The competing values framework is a tool used to understand and characterize organizational behaviors and beliefs and how they contribute to success.

The Competing Values Framework was developed in 1983 by Robert Quinn and John Rohrbaugh.

The pair found that successful companies needed to balance two factors:

  • Focus – some companies were effective when they maintained a competitive external position, while others were better suited to focusing on internal processes, and
  • Stability – some companies were also more efficient when they displayed flexibility, while others were successful because they favored control and stability.

From these two factors, Quinn and Rohrbaugh argued there were four ideal types of organization with each having a unique set of behaviors:

  1. Hierarchy – inward-looking, ordered, and controlled companies with a focus on structure. Their rigidity makes them less responsive to situations and market demands.
  2. Clan – also inward-looking but able to respond to change with teamwork, collaboration, and a shared, almost familial environment.
  3. Adhocracy – outward-looking companies that are flexible and responsive innovators and risk-takers. Unsurprisingly, they tend to be entrepreneurial and driven.
  4. Market – outward-looking companies that are customer-oriented, competitive, less nurturing, and cognizant of their position in the market.

Denison organizational culture model

The Denison organizational culture model is a relatively recent model that was based on the Competing Values Framework.

It describes four key traits (and twelve associated management techniques) that help an organization develop a robust and effective culture. These include:

  1. Mission – does the company know where it is heading?
  2. Involvement – are employees engaged with their work and in alignment?
  3. Adaptability – is the company able to respond to the market, customers, and other external factors?
  4. Consistency – can the company leverage its values, processes, and systems?

The model measures behaviors that are driven by the beliefs and assumptions of each trait to help the business clarify its culture.

Hall’s iceberg model

Hall’s iceberg model was developed in 1976 by American anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher Edward T. Hall.

Hall likened corporate culture to an iceberg. He posited that some aspects of culture were:

  • Visible (above the waterline) – such as vision, mission, strategy, external presentation, and policies.
  • Invisible (below the waterline) – such as values, norms, relationships, unwritten rules, status, and fundamental employee needs such as safety and belonging.

Companies use Hall’s cultural model to shape their culture by addressing the invisible aspects, as these constitute the values and thought patterns that ultimately drive behavior.

McKinsey 7s framework

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees of Freedom for Growth is a strategy tool. Developed by partners at McKinsey and Company, the tool helps businesses understand which opportunities will contribute to expansion, and therefore it helps to prioritize those initiatives.

The McKinsey 7s framework was developed by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman while they were involved with McKinsey as consultants in the 1970s. 

Peters and Waterman describe a corporate culture in terms of six elements that are classified as either:

  1. Hard elementsstrategy, structure, and systems, or
  2. Soft elements – staff, skills, and shared values.

Each of these six elements is interdependent and each must be balanced for the company to succeed.

To that end, the McKinsey 7s framework has a core focus on change management and its ability to positively or negatively reshape corporate culture.

Hofstede model

Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory was developed by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede in 1980. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory is a framework for cross-cultural communication. To create his theory, Hofstede analyzed the results of a global survey of IBM employees to determine the dimensions in which different cultures vary. Between 1967 and 1973, approximately 117,000 employees across 50 countries were asked about workplace values and leadership and how they were influenced by culture.

The Hofstede model was developed by culture expert Geert Hofstede in the 1980s to serve as a framework for cross-cultural communication. Over six years, he analyzed the results of IBM employee surveys to determine how the culture of society impacted their values and by extension, workplaces. 

Hofstede’s work has been used by consultants in international business, psychology, and communication.

The model does not provide a concrete plan of action. Instead, it is used by businesses to conceptualize their ideal corporate culture and understand the various societal and cultural factors that are present.

This makes it ideal for new companies who need to establish a corporate culture or develop a cultural manifesto.

Key takeaways:

  • In the context of an organization, cultural models are frameworks that define, shape, and influence corporate culture. Cultural models are frameworks that provide some structure to a corporate culture that tends to be fluid and vulnerable to change.
  • Cultural models include the Competing Values Framework, a common cultural model that inspired the relatively recent Denison model.
  • Other models include Hall’s iceberg model, the McKinsey 7s framework, and the Hofstede model which is based on research into the impact of culture on employee values, societies, and workplaces.

Key Highlights:

  • Cultural Models in Organizations:
    • Cultural models are frameworks that define and influence corporate culture within an organization.
    • They provide structure and understanding to the often fluid and changeable nature of corporate culture.
  • Competing Values Framework:
    • Developed by Robert Quinn and John Rohrbaugh, it categorizes organizations based on their focus and stability.
    • Four ideal types of organizations emerge: Hierarchy, Clan, Adhocracy, and Market.
    • Each type exhibits distinct behaviors and approaches that contribute to their success.
  • Denison Organizational Culture Model:
    • Built on the Competing Values Framework, it identifies key traits for a robust culture: Mission, Involvement, Adaptability, and Consistency.
    • Focuses on behaviors driven by beliefs and assumptions to clarify organizational culture.
  • Hall’s Iceberg Model:
    • Developed by Edward T. Hall, it likens culture to an iceberg, with visible (above the waterline) and invisible (below the waterline) aspects.
    • The visible aspects include vision, strategy, and policies, while the invisible aspects encompass values, norms, and relationships.
  • McKinsey 7s Framework:
    • Created by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, it analyzes corporate culture using six elements categorized as hard (strategy, structure, systems) and soft (staff, skills, shared values).
    • Emphasizes the interdependency of these elements and their impact on change management and cultural reshaping.
  • Hofstede Model:
    • Developed by Geert Hofstede, it focuses on cross-cultural communication and understanding workplace values.
    • Based on a global survey of IBM employees in different countries.
    • Provides insights into cultural dimensions that impact workplace behavior and values.
  • Key Takeaways:
    • Cultural models offer valuable frameworks to understand, analyze, and shape corporate culture.
    • Each model emphasizes different dimensions and aspects of culture, helping organizations build effective and adaptable cultures.

Other Types of Organizational Structures

Organizational Structures

Siloed Organizational Structures


In a functional organizational structure, groups and teams are organized based on function. Therefore, this organization follows a top-down structure, where most decision flows from top management to bottom. Thus, the bottom of the organization mostly follows the strategy detailed by the top of the organization.



Open Organizational Structures




In a flat organizational structure, there is little to no middle management between employees and executives. Therefore it reduces the space between employees and executives to enable an effective communication flow within the organization, thus being faster and leaner.

Read Next: Organizational Structure.

Organizational Structure Case Studies

Airbnb Organizational Structure

Airbnb follows a holacracy model, or a sort of flat organizational structure, where teams are organized for projects, to move quickly and iterate fast, thus keeping a lean and flexible approach. Airbnb also moved to a hybrid model where employees can work from anywhere and meet on a quarterly basis to plan ahead, and connect to each other.

eBay Organizational Structure

eBay was until recently a multi-divisional (M-form) organization with semi-autonomous units grouped according to the services they provided. Today, eBay has a single division called Marketplace, which includes eBay and its international iterations.

IBM Organizational Structure

IBM has an organizational structure characterized by product-based divisions, enabling its strategy to develop innovative and competitive products in multiple markets. IBM is also characterized by function-based segments that support product development and innovation for each product-based division, which include Global Markets, Integrated Supply Chain, Research, Development, and Intellectual Property.

Sony Organizational Structure

Sony has a matrix organizational structure primarily based on function-based groups and product/business divisions. The structure also incorporates geographical divisions. In 2021, Sony announced the overhauling of its organizational structure, changing its name from Sony Corporation to Sony Group Corporation to better identify itself as the headquarters of the Sony group of companies skewing the company toward product divisions.

Facebook Organizational Structure

Facebook is characterized by a multi-faceted matrix organizational structure. The company utilizes a flat organizational structure in combination with corporate function-based teams and product-based or geographic divisions. The flat organization structure is organized around the leadership of Mark Zuckerberg, and the key executives around him. On the other hand, the function-based teams based on the main corporate functions (like HR, product management, investor relations, and so on).

Google Organizational Structure

Google (Alphabet) has a cross-functional (team-based) organizational structure known as a matrix structure with some degree of flatness. Over the years, as the company scaled and it became a tech giant, its organizational structure is morphing more into a centralized organization.

Tesla Organizational Structure

Tesla is characterized by a functional organizational structure with aspects of a hierarchical structure. Tesla does employ functional centers that cover all business activities, including finance, sales, marketing, technology, engineering, design, and the offices of the CEO and chairperson. Tesla’s headquarters in Austin, Texas, decide the strategic direction of the company, with international operations given little autonomy.

McDonald’s Organizational Structure

McDonald’s has a divisional organizational structure where each division – based on geographical location – is assigned operational responsibilities and strategic objectives. The main geographical divisions are the US, internationally operated markets, and international developmental licensed markets. And on the other hand, the hierarchical leadership structure is organized around regional and functional divisions.

Walmart Organizational Structure

Walmart has a hybrid hierarchical-functional organizational structure, otherwise referred to as a matrix structure that combines multiple approaches. On the one hand, Walmart follows a hierarchical structure, where the current CEO Doug McMillon is the only employee without a direct superior, and directives are sent from top-level management. On the other hand, the function-based structure of Walmart is used to categorize employees according to their particular skills and experience.

Microsoft Organizational Structure

Microsoft has a product-type divisional organizational structure based on functions and engineering groups. As the company scaled over time it also became more hierarchical, however still keeping its hybrid approach between functions, engineering groups, and management.

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