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Iceberg Model of Culture

September 28, 2022

A strong culture is a vital component of any thriving organization. Yet, this is a concept that many company leaders find relatively elusive. In some ways it can feel like an intangible idea, based around values and attitudes. But the truth of the matter is that building a culture is as practical as any other task in your organization and tends to have a direct impact on your success.

That said, building a culture isn’t simply about developing a company mission and maintaining high ethical standards. You need to dive deeper. Your approach must consider how visible and less visible elements coincide to ensure your culture is strong and sustainable throughout all areas of your operations. Having a good understanding of the iceberg model of culture can guide you during this process.

Let’s take a closer look at this topic.

What Is the Iceberg Model of Culture?

By now, most people are familiar with the deceptive appearance of icebergs. What you are able to see above the surface of the water only represents a tiny portion of the mass of the iceberg. In the late 1970s, anthropologist Edward T Hall suggested a similar division when it comes to culture. This is one of various comparisons he made to describe how the more obvious components of culture aren’t the be-all and end-all. Rather, there are many subtle elements that contribute to making a culture strong, secure, and rich.

Hall’s perspectives on this iceberg model of culture were primarily directed toward how societies function. Nevertheless, it is just as relevant when applied to organizational culture. Businesses are equally influenced by the strength of their cultural elements. Employee engagement tends to be bolstered by a positive and supportive culture. Consumers often make purchasing decisions as a result of values. A company’s ability to be innovative relies upon a culture that drives creativity and productivity.

Surface Components

Some of the common tip-of-iceberg cultural elements include:


One of the most visible aspects of culture is the working environment. This can be key for both employees and consumers alike. How your company designs and maintains the surroundings of operations sends a distinct message. An atmosphere of chaos can suggest that your culture is one of disorganization. Surroundings that have a lot of plants, natural light, and recycling facilities communicate a cultural dedication to sustainability.


By their very nature, branding elements should be immediately visual representations of what’s important in your organization. This doesn’t just mean the logos and color schemes you utilize, although these are certainly strong cultural communicative tools. It’s also the language you assign to your brand voice. Even the other businesses and influencers you partner with are reflective of your brand and the cultural and ethical standards your organization prioritizes.


The people your organization chooses to represent it are important visual influencers of the culture. Certainly, your members of leadership are instrumental in making key decisions about the overall direction of your company, the values that are important, and the activities the business engages with. Nevertheless, your choice of staff at all levels influences various areas of both below and above-surface iceberg aspects of culture. After all, they closely interact with your company’s consumers, employees, partners, and resources on a daily basis. They meaningfully contribute to how effectively your company maintains and represents its culture.  

Employee Benefits

The benefits and perks your company offers its employees are visible indicators of your culture. After all, these are components that communicate how highly you value your workers and the talents they bring to the organization. It’s also a gauge of your company’s recognition that your workers are the driving force behind any success you experience, and that they must therefore be compensated accordingly.

Below Surface Components

Some of the key below surface components in the iceberg model of culture include:


The values of a company tend to have an impact on every aspect of the organizational culture. There can certainly be visual elements related to company values, such as a mission statement or collaborations with good causes. But for the most part, this is an unseen component that is perpetuated through the actions and attitudes of stakeholders. When employees truly understand the organization’s core values, these are expressed through their tasks, their interactions with colleagues and third parties, and their approach to their career progression in the business. For leaders and executives, these values influence and express the culture through operational decision making. 

Safety and Security

An organization that fails to prioritize safety and security effectively weakens its culture on various levels. From an ethical perspective, maintaining solid safety practices helps to ensure all stakeholders are able to interact with the organization without being exposed to unnecessary risks. It also means that your company’s resources, the interests of investors, and the jobs of workers retain a strong element of protection. As such, this supports everyone to contribute effectively to cultivating a healthy and successful organization. 


When there is a deep commitment to transparency in your organization, this can influence trust throughout your wider culture. This may include protocols for being open with employees, investors, and other stakeholders regarding the financial position of the company. It might involve providing clear information about the origin of your company’s raw materials or  your labor practices. This type of unfiltered honesty not only gives stakeholders confidence in the positive culture of your business, it also encourages all those connected to your organization to act with greater integrity.

Leadership Styles

How those in leadership positions approach their roles may be a beneath-surface aspect of the iceberg model of culture, but it has a very tangible impact. This isn’t just from the perspective of the direct influence on making sure projects come in on time and on budget. The choices leaders make here shape employees’ impressions of the direction of the company. Leaders utilizing strategies that empower workers rather than dictate to them creates the foundations for a culture that enables everyone to thrive.

Utilizing the Iceberg

It is vital for you to better understand the makeup of your organizational iceberg. The more you know about the visible and invisible elements that contribute to your company culture, the better you can adjust them to bolster your success.

Start by performing an analysis of your company culture. Specifically, review the balance of surface and below-surface cultural components in your business. If your company has primarily surface aspects, you need to do some work to implement a greater cultural support system. Reach out to your employees for their perspectives, too. Utilize employee experience surveys and pulse surveys to dig into how your workers interact with the company culture and where they feel improvements could be made. This shouldn’t be a one-and-done circumstance. Keep utilizing your understanding of the iceberg model of culture to maintain a positive balance.

Wrapping Up

The iceberg model of culture communicates the idea that it isn’t just the visible elements of organizational culture that matter. You also need to ensure your organization is bolstered by less obvious but no less impactful influencers. Take the time to recognize what factors can both clearly promote positive culture and support its efficacy. This empowers you and your workforce to cultivate a positive organization in which everybody can thrive.