ATD Blog

In Memoriam: Edgar H. Schein

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“Being physically near one another does not make a group a team, nor does reporting to the same supervisor. What makes a team is task or emotional interdependence.” —Edgar H. Schein

On January 26, the organization development profession experienced the loss of Edgar H. Schein at the age of 94.

Schein, a well-established researcher and consultant on organizational learning, culture, and development, process consultation, and career dynamics, had a profound impact on so many during his illustrious career as an author, professor emeritus at MIT Sloan School of Management, and co-founder of the Organizational Culture and Leadership Institute with son Peter Schein. Tributes on LinkedIn honored Schein as one of the greatest minds in organizational culture, a giant of OD, and a pioneer in organizational culture and leadership.

During his career, Schein consulted for major corporations such as Apple, General Foods, and Citibank. He authored more than 20 papers and books, including Career Dynamics (1978); Career Anchors (1986); Process Consultation: Its Role in Organization Development (1988); The Corporate Culture Survival Guide (1999); Process Consultation Revisited (1999); DEC Is Dead, Long Live DEC: The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation (2004); Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help (2011); Humble Consulting: How to Provide Real Help Faster (2016); and Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness, and Trust (2018).

“Edgar Schein played a major role in founding and advancing five different fields of knowledge and practice: organizational psychology, organization development, organizational culture, group process consultation, and career development,” wrote Steve Piersanti, founder of Berrett-Koehler Publishers and senior editor. “Few people have approached the scope of contribution that Edgar Schein had to our understanding of organizations and people’s behavior and development in social systems.”

The Association for Talent Development honored Schein with its 1999 Lifetime Achievement Award in Learning and Performance. Described by ATD as “one of the founders of organizational psychology and a pioneer in the study of organizational cultures,” the award was bestowed to Schein for his work in organization development, process consultation, and career management and development.

“Schein was instrumental in giving a voice to the field of organizational development as it was emerging,” according to the commendation presented at the time. “He, along with Richard Beckhard and Warren Bennis, saw the need to capture the thinking of the rapidly growing new field.” Schein co-authored, with Beckhard and Bennis, the Addison-Wesley Series on Organization Development, a box set that included Schein’s classic Process Consultation book.

Many in the industry echoed similar sentiments.

“As a profession, we are blessed with idea icons whose insights shape our world today. Ed Schein was one of the best. His idea legacy will endure for generations to come,” said Dave Ulrich, a university professor, author, speaker, management coach, and management consultant.

Elaine Biech, president of ebb associates, remembered, “Although Career Anchors may be the underlying product that brought him the most recognition, his eyes always lit up when he was talking about organizational culture within OD.”

Biech invited Schein to write a chapter, based on his book Humble Consulting, for an upcoming ATD consultant’s handbook that Biech is spearheading. “He and I were in the process (with the help of Berrett-Koehler) of clarifying exactly what would be in the book. In fact, we corresponded the evening before his death,” Biech explained. “He was excited to tell me that the fifth edition of Career Anchors was coming out at the end of March. That so epitomizes the Dr. Ed Schein I knew … contributing to the profession until his last breath.”

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