Think back to the beginning of this year before the pandemic started.

Did you ever imagine your organization and colleagues would be working remotely for months on end? Or that universities and schools would shift their teaching online?

Probably not.

Still, the world adapted to the unexpected challenges thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic by introducing new systems at work, school, and home.

This was not an easy shift.

You need to adapt, innovate and think out of the box to solve such problems. You also need to understand them completely, identify their root causes, and focus on resolving the causes.

One way of understanding how to solve complex problems is to adopt the Iceberg Model of Culture, a tool to discover patterns of behavior.

Let us look at the Iceberg Model in detail.

The Iceberg Model Of Culture

Anthropologist Edward T. Hall developed the Cultural Iceberg Model in the 1970s as an analogy for the cultural codes that prevail in any society.

The term ‘Iceberg Model of Culture’ is inspired by the icebergs found in polar seas. An iceberg has visible parts on the surface of the water and invisible parts that are underwater. Often, up to 90% of an iceberg’s actual area remains hidden underwater.

Similarly, culture and behaviors have both visible and invisible components. The visible part of culture is the way we live and interact with each other, our traditions, food, and attire.

The invisible part is our preferences, opinions, values, beliefs, and value systems. Just as much of an iceberg remains hidden underwater, much of the culture and behavior remains hidden but it cannot be ignored.

The large chunk of the iceberg that exists underwater determines the behavior that is visible above the surface.

Organizational Culture As An Iceberg

Organizational cultures also have visible and invisible elements.

A company’s corporate brand, values, and behaviors are visible to all. But like an iceberg, organizations are also driven by often unseen behaviors, and leaders have to go beyond visible factors such as turnover rates and disengaged staff.

They have to dig deeper and identify less invisible elements such as employee resistance to change or misalignment between a company’s culture and strategy.

Organizations can use the Iceberg Model to develop a deeper understanding of cultural differences and behavioral competence in teams.

This will help understand how to solve complex problems by changing aspects of behavior that may be hidden but are still important.

Three Pillars Of The Iceberg Model

Let us understand the three key aspects of this cultural iceberg theory.

  1. Visible cultural practices:

The very first step of using the Iceberg Model is to focus on events or visible cultural practices.

For instance, a person from one culture who visits a different culture might get a cultural shock upon noticing the difference in dressing styles, food choices, lifestyles, and the way people greet each other. Understanding the variation in cultural practices helps one develop a deeper understanding of people and behavior, both at work and life in general.

One of the most important steps of using the cultural iceberg theory is to identify the beliefs, values, attitudes, and expectations that drive a particular culture. Most people tend to subconsciously learn their values, beliefs, and attitudes from their culture and community.

  1. Patterns and habits:

According to the Iceberg Model of Culture, behaviors often follow a pattern. Finding patterns can make it easier to work together or bring about change.

For example, an organization’s employees are late every day, but the team leader can’t understand why. It’s only when she digs deeper that she discovers a pattern: they stayed at work for a late evening meeting every day which often went over the allotted time. So they came to work late the following day.

Looking for invisible patterns helped the team leader get to the root of the problem. She shifted the daily meeting to the morning and ensured her team left the office on time.

  1. Mental models:

All of us continue to believe some things about ourselves even though we recognize that they may not be true. These beliefs can be about you or the world around you. They can lead to negative emotions like stress, anxiety, and frustration.

For example, when someone believes that they can’t do something because no one from their family has ever done it before, they hold a limiting belief. This was evident in the popular film Gully Boy where the hero believed he could not change his life and follow his dream to become a successful rapper after being told so repeatedly.

He changed his mental model and achieved his dream.

For a large-scale change that requires a cultural and behavioral shift, it is necessary to change the mental models of individuals.


Cultural differences can often lead to problems while working in multicultural teams and doing business in international markets. However, the Iceberg Model of problem-solving can help you overcome these challenges. By understanding the cultural iceberg theory, we can get to the root causes of the problems.

Similarly, the Iceberg Model of Culture can help understand and transform human behavior on a large scale.

Harappa Education’s Leading Self course contains a section on the Iceberg Model of behavior. This approach to problem-solving and behavior change can help achieve long-term and sustainable solutions. Sign up for the course to understand how to use the Iceberg Model.

Explore topics such as Career DevelopmentCareer Planning, the Benefits of Taking OwnershipCareer Path Planning, the Importance of Planning from our Harappa Diaries section and lead on a path of self-development.

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