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Mapping Organizational Culture

Are you struggling to break down organizational silos, increase creativity, engagement and collaboration? Do you feel like the people in your company are resisting change? Is your company’s culture holding you back?

Nobody denies the critical importance of culture to a company’s success. And yet, although everyone agrees that culture is of vital importance, culture still seems fuzzy, vague and difficult to grasp. Culture change initiatives are often well-meaning, but end up as a series of feel-good exercises. They create a feeling that progress is being made, but ultimately fail to deliver results.

Objective of Play
Assess, map and transform organizational culture via deep reflection. As a leader or manager in a large organization, you probably have a sense of the culture and people challenges facing you, but at the same time, you must also manage not only down but up and across the organization.

Culture Mapping gives you the intelligent information you require to make a business case for the interventions, executive support, and budget you will need to minimize risk and maximize the chances of success for your change initiative.

Number of Players
Use the culture map individually or with a group.

For group use, gather 5 – 6 people from the same function (IT, HR, finance, et al) who work together and know each other well. The goal of the session is candid and constructive criticism; the boss cannot come.

Duration of Play
Anywhere between 15 minutes for individual play (napkin sketch of a Culture Map) to 90 minutes for a group.

Material Required
Culture Mapping works best when players work on a poster on the wall. To run a good session you will need:

  • A very large print of a Culture Map. Ideally A0 format (1000mm × 1414mm or 39.4in × 55.7in)
    • Alternatively, recreate the canvas on a large whiteboard.
  • Tons of sticky notes (i.e. post-it® notes) of different colors
  • Flip chart markers
  • Camera to capture results
  • The facilitator of the game might want to read an outline of the Culture Map.

How to Play
There are several games and variations you can play with the Culture Map. Here we describe the most basic game, which is the mapping of an organization’s existing culture. The game can easily be adapted to the objectives of the players (eg, map your desired culture or that of another organization).

  1. Before you begin mapping, review with the group the Culture Map sections. A garden plays a useful analogy:
    • The outcomes in your culture are the fruits. These are the things you want your culture to achieve, or what you want to “harvest” from your garden.
    • The behaviors are the heart of your culture. They’re the positive or negative actions people perform everyday that will result in a good or bad harvest.
    • The enablers and blockers are the elements that allow your garden to flourish or fail. For example, weeds, pests, bad weather, or lack of knowledge might be hindering your garden. Where as fertilizer, expertise in gardening specific crops, or good land might be helping your garden to grow.
  2. Start with Behavior, it tends to be the easiest to discuss. These are the things we see everyday, the things we talk about when we ask someone if they “want to grab a coffee?” Use the guide questions to prompt ideas. Write a single behavior on a sticky note, put it on the map. Before moving to the next step, group similar behaviors and remove duplicates. Recommendation: be as specific as possible, use stories to elicit detail and specificity; avoid the tendency to be generic in describing these behaviors. Ask the players: how would you describe this behavior as a scene in a movie?
  3. Move to Outcomes. Go behavior-by-behavior and use the guide questions to prompt ideas, the most important being: What happens to the business because of the behaviors? Write a single outcome on a sticky note, put it on the map near its related behavior. Use a marker to draw a line between a behavior and its direct outcome.
  4. Move to Enablers and Blockers. Go behavior-by-behavior and use the guide questions to prompt ideas. Enablers and blockers describe why we behave the way we do: a listing of organizational incentives. Write a single enabler or blocker on a sticky note and place it near it’s related behavior. Use a marker to draw a line between an enabler or blocker and its resulting behavior.
  5. Once you have taken a pass at each section, examine the map and discuss with the group. Do the relationships make sense? Are the behaviors as detailed as they could be? Has your discussion sparked any other thoughts? If so, add them to the map. Recommendation: Keep relationships as direct as possible. For example, a behavior should have only one outcome and one enabler or blocker. It is likely this will not happen without discussion, editing and refinement. For clarity and communication, keep the relationships as simple as possible, for example:

Strategy
Depending on who you ask, 60–70 percent of change initiatives fail to meet their stated objectives, and the primary source of that failure, according to a Deloitte study, is resistance to change. So if you’re embarking on a change initiative, the last things you want to skimp on are risk-awareness and risk management.

Culture Mapping surfaces information that, as far as we know, cannot be collected any other way. It gives the C-suite access to frontline culture in a way that they could never get through their own efforts, because the water-cooler conversation always shuts down, or significantly shifts, when the CEO or senior leader walks by.

Variation
Map the Culture of industry competitors or an aspirational company

The Culture Map was developed by Dave Gray and Strategyzer AG.

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