3 Key Elements To An Effective Culture Design Session

2 min read

"There are no separate systems. The world is a continuum. Where to draw a boundary around a system depends on the purpose of the discussion—the questions we want to ask."
– Donella Meadows

I am preparing for a culture design & strategic planning session with a leadership team in about two weeks, and find myself deeply reflecting on three key elements that I find to be essential for any culture design session - The container, the creative tension, and the opening.

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"The Container" - Containers are energetic holding spaces for possibility and are essential for any facilitative practice. Without being able to hold ourselves steady in challenging situations, we cannot offer a holding space for others. If we are wanting to work within social systems, the capacity to be able to both ground and open up will determine the level of complexity we can receive, process, and ultimately support in a room.

I love referring to this analogy when thinking about the power of our containers.

"Take the example of an apple tree: Weak branches yield little fruit. The stronger the trunk, the stronger the branch. The stronger the roots, the stronger the trunk. The richer the soil, the more nourishment for the roots and the fruit. And so on."

Make sure you are creating an effective container that yields "richer fruit..."

"Creative Tension" is the tension between the vision and the current state. The larger this gap, the more tension there is.

Think about the rubber band being stretched in two directions. One end is representing where you are today and the other is the vision of the future.

“We create tension to help us rise.” – Peter Senge

We need to think about how much tension we are going to be comfortable with and how much we should apply. If we do not have a vision, we will not have anything pulling us to grow or develop. Too much of a vision and the tension becomes too strong to handle.

One way to lower the tension is to lower the vision. The other way is to change up your capacity and become better at something in the current reality.

Ideally, we look to increase our capacity as we grow our vision. This way, each is growing at the same time.

So ask yourself, as you are going into a culture design-related session, how much tension is appropriate for the situation in order to maximize the discussion and experience? At what level of tension are we comfortable with that still enables us to grow?

Lastly, "Opening" is what helps us become a channel for what wants to come through. To be in service of making visible something that wants to be seen.

It's essential that you stay open during these creative sessions. A practice to evaluate what might be blocking you from being open is asking two simple questions...

1. What is at risk if I stay open? (listen and jot down what comes to mind).
2. What is at risk if I don't stay open? (Listen and jot down what comes to mind).

Through this process, the paths become pretty clear. This helps us define how open we are willing to be and how far we want to push things. This helps us become more comfortable and connected to the space.

This is often a practice to do personally before you go into facilitation, and also as a check-in for attendees.

Closing thoughts - anytime you are going into any type of creative discussion within a social system, make sure you are creating an effective container, developing a healthy amount of creative tension, and developing & maintaining a level of opening!

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References - CC License by the Presencing Institute - Otto Scharmer

Kelvy Bird - Presencing institute, www.kelvybird.com 

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