The first step to getting the culture you want is getting clear on what it looks like. But it’s tricky to put your finger on culture. What’s the secret to making the intangible tangible? Using visuals and games gets beyond the superficial and generic to what’s uniquely true about your organization. Inspired by Gamestorming, here are six games XPLANE plays with groups who want to shape company culture and map their current or desired culture. These games are serious play–while you’re having fun in a group, you’re opening up challenging conversations and getting to the heart of a slippery topic. This technique is just part of XPLANE’s approach to culture mapping.
How to Play: Individual or group activity. Ask yourself “What clues can you gather by looking at your organization as an outsider?” Imagine you are an anthropologist encountering your organization in the wild for the first time. Use the worksheet to document what seems to be particular to the people in this organization. Who appear to be their heroes and legends? What sayings do you hear? What customs and rituals do you observe? What artifacts do they hold as having great importance?
Best for: Getting past stated values to what may be so deeply ingrained in the culture that it’s become hard to see.
This game is adapted from work by Geert Hofstede.
Click here to download the Anthropologist's Game.
How to Play: Best as a group activity. Ask your team, “What celebrity or notable person would be our organization’s “culture mascot”–a spokesperson for our cultural values”? Then ask “Why?” What traits make him/her emblematic of our culture? Sketch the celebrity in the center and fill out the diagram with the top six characteristics.
Best for: Getting clear about the culture your organization aspires to without relying on vague, cliché words.
Click here to download the Mascot Game.
How to Play: Best as a group activity. Ask your team, “On what organizations do we have a culture crush?” Think about companies that people often talk about emulating. List them in the hearts on the worksheet. Then note the reasons why you have a crush on them. Next, think about what organizations are the antitheses of the culture you want. Fill in the drops on the worksheet and note why for each.
Best for: Clarifying specific elements of the culture you aspire to by looking not just at desirable cultures but also undesirable cultures. Remember the mantra: contrast creates definition!
Click here to download the Culture Crush Game.
How to Play: Individual or group activity. Identify the values that are in tension in your organization and draw them in opposite boxes on the worksheet. Think about the people in your organization who are very successful and mark where they fall on the balance between these opposing values. Use the worksheet to identify the balance between competing values. For example, where does your organization stand between “experimentation” and “execution,” “regional differences are respected” and “one firm mentality,” or “humble” and “confident”?
Best for: Complex cultures that could be described as “nuanced,” “hard to navigate,” “requires experience to learn,” or “seemingly full of contradictions.” Organizational values are rarely absolute–they are usually balanced by an opposite value. One way to visualize culture is to name the values in tension and the desired balance.
Click here to download the Tightrope Game.
How to Play: Individual or group activity. Ask yourself, “Who are the culture stars of our organization?” Ask around–if you could nominate one person to represent the company culture, who would it be? Pick your biggest culture star and use the worksheet to diagram the behaviors they exhibit.
Best for: Getting out of the abstract to real people’s behaviors that are working in your current culture.
Click here to download the Star Employee Game.
How to Play: Find a partner or small team and fill out the “MadLibs” style story in the worksheet. You may find it’s easier to read the story in context rather than blindly choosing adjectives and nouns like in the real MadLibs game–although that approach certainly makes things humorous!
Best for: Getting specific about the nuances that make your current culture unique.
Click here to download the Culture MadLibs Game.
Stephanie Gioia is the Director of Consulting at XPLANE.