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Guest Blog Post: Playing Cards for Culture Change | Eugene Eric Kim

Submitted by: LLC Staff on May 23rd, 2014 at 8AM PDT

Eugene helps groups learn how to come alive and collaborate more skillfully together. He spent ten years consulting with companies across different sectors, from Fortune 500 companies to grassroots movements. He’s now focusing his efforts on helping others develop the same skills that he uses to help groups. You can read more about him at his website, Faster Than 20.

The defining characteristic of Creating Space for me — and the reason I keep coming back — is the quality and diversity of the participants. Everybody is dedicated to learning about leadership development, and the design of the gathering supports us in truly learning from each other at a deep level.

Our most recent gathering offered the perfect opportunity for me to test a very early version of an idea I’ve had for several years now — mindset cards.

When I was a consultant, a lot of my work was about helping groups shift into more of a learning, collaborative culture. Peter Drucker has famously said that culture eats strategy for breakfast, and yet, the reality is that most groups do not pursue culture work intentionally. It seems hard and hand-wavy, and it’s safer to ignore it and hope it works itself out.

Culture work is hard, but it doesn’t have to be hand-wavy. Culture consists of a group’s patterns of behavior as well as its collective beliefs and mindsets. Behavior is something you can see. Beliefs and mindsets are invisible.

Our core approach was to help groups get very explicit about the kind of culture they wanted to have. For example, if you were trying to build a learning culture in your organization, what kind of mindsets would contribute to that?

Through deep discussion, your group might decide that it wants less of a mindset of, “Play it safe,” and more of a mindset of, “Mistakes are part of learning.” This level of specificity has several benefits. First, it gives people in your group a much more concrete sense of what the collective expectation is of a learning culture.

Second, if you are explicit and specific about this collective expectation, you can actually track how you well you’re doing. For example, you could take these less-of and more-of mindsets and map them as a spectrum:


                                   Play it safe                                                                                                             Mistakes are part of learning


You could then ask everyone in your group to map where they think the organization is along this spectrum. This serves as a tool for assessing your group’s culture.

When I’ve led groups through this process in the past, I would always start from scratch, facilitating a group conversation where people told stories of desirable and undesirable behavior, then identified and named the underlying mindsets. It was a generative process, but it was also time-consuming, and it required skillful facilitation.

I had done enough of this work over the years to start to notice patterns, and I thought it might be interesting to create a card deck out of those patterns. My hypothesis was that such a card deck would enable to get people to move more quickly into concrete conversations without getting hung up by the model.

Last month, my colleague, Rebecca Petzel, and I went through all of the mindsets we had worked on together and with another former colleague, Kristin Cobble, over the years. We put together a sample deck, and we discussed possible ways to use them. But we needed a real group on which to test them.

Creating Space offered that opportunity. The organizers created a “design space” and encouraged participants to share and prototype different leadership development tools. It was not my original intention to unveil this deck here, but it seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up. I literally created a new deck to use for testing during lunch, frantically scribbling on a set of 3x5 index cards with markers so that I would be ready to share these with anyone who was interested.

Twelve wonderful participants showed up at my session and played with the cards. They not only provided wonderful data for how I could improve them, but we also had a very interesting conversation about culture work and the very real challenges many groups face. They also came up with a fun idea for how we could report on our conversation to the rest of the group — you can watch the report-out yourself in the video below!

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to get that direct feedback from such a sophisticated group of participants, and I hope they found it valuable as well. I plan on continuing to develop the idea. If you’re interested in learning more and possibly experimenting with the cards yourself, check out this web page and drop me an email!