As culture facilitators, we work with startups, established organizations, and associations.
All of these things have one thing in common: people.
When we work with groups of people, we foster an energy that engages, empathizes, energizes, empowers, and evolves culture. When it’s done right, this creates the roots of a culture which empowers and creates a self-organized loop with the organization as it grows.
Sometimes, we see people get caught up in the sense of “me”. What I’m doing, I’m doing for “me”. It’s “me, myself, and I” who makes the decision. Since “I” am the leader, “I” define the culture. If you get caught up in this sense of “me” and unilaterally take control of culture, you end up with a culture of disengagement, lack of passion, and dysfunction that comes back to haunt you.
The reality is this: as soon as you have a team, a culture will begin to form. It’s the language you share with each other, the habits and day-to-day practices, the tone of your interactions… these all contribute to and shape the culture. This powerful energy will grow organically, regardless of the frameworks used. Cultural Evolution is a collaborative journey — the environment in which it thrives can be built together, and the power of the group can be harnessed to empower a healthy culture.
That’s why it’s essential to facilitate culture sessions with your team in an effective and intentional way. It’s the only way to collectively empower alignment, growth, and evolution of the right culture for your business, organization, and community.
What follows is a methodology we use to complete cultural evolution sessions that creates clarity and buy-in from everyone.
How to facilitate effective culture-creation sessions:
There are 6 key elements involved in the facilitation
Element 1 — Define your groups
Everyone’s voice counts.
During cultural sessions, it is essential that everyone has a voice. Company-wide discussions do not allow for this to happen. An effective strategy to do this is to work in smaller groups. A mix of 1:1’s and small group discussions is ideal. Enabling everyone to have a voice and a seat at the table will empower you to better share ideas, understand different perspectives, and establish a collective understanding around the topic at hand.
Element 2 — Enable Facilitation
Throughout the session (or sessions), you’ll have to work through group discussions. To ensure that these discussions go smoothly, one person should take on the role as the facilitator.
The facilitator is the toughest role in these group discussions. It is the facilitator’s responsibility to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard, manage the pace and time of the discussion to stay on schedule, and capture and record important details that result from the discussion.
There is also a neutral energy which facilitators must embrace. These topics are often emotional — even if you have a strong viewpoint, it’s important to press pause on sharing your own opinions to let those around you be heard.
For this reason, external facilitators are ideal. It is best to choose someone who is confident and trained for these discussions. If not, it could do more harm than good.
Element 3 — Session Communications
To fully prepare people for these sessions, it is essential you create an agenda. Just as companies need to announce and market their products to customers, you must also announce and “market” these sessions to your people.
When looking forward to these programs, participants should be full of energy, inspired to participate, and it should be viewed as a fun experience. The purpose of these sessions is to spark creative thinking and collaborative development.
The way you engage your people is extremely important. You are inviting your team to join in on a powerful conversation about culture. This invite to your team should be inspirational and engaging, and it should foreshadow the exciting growth and discussion that lies ahead.
These invitations can include explanations about the culture session, the purpose behind the session, and information about what your team can do to prepare for the session. Following this invitation, check-in and follow up to see how this communication was received. Were people enthusiastic about it? Were they excited to engage? Were they confused? If you are not sure, take time to casually connect with members about individual feedback, so that you can proactively gauge interest from your team.
Element 4 — The Opening
It is finally the day of the session — congrats! You made it this far. Now, it’s time to get started.
Before you kick things off and jump into the content, reflect on how people may be feeling. For many people, this may be a bit nerve-wracking. It’s essential that you put them at ease right from the start.
A great way to do this is to take the pressure off of them and outline the goals and agenda of the session. Walk the audience through what the experience is going to be like, start to finish. This agenda should be visible for the group to follow. This allows the pressure to be taken off the attendees and sets the tone for the rest of the discussion.
Having an effective opening transforms the mood from a state of nervousness to a state of excitement. A ice breaker or two can be an effective way to get thoughts flowing and engaged as well!
The last aspect of the opening is to set out some ground rules for the meeting. These ground rules should be co-created with the group and should come organically. A healthy way to do this is to ask the team what they believe the guidelines for a healthy meeting should be.
Element 5 — What’s Next?
So, you completed your discussion event. And (hopefully) it was engaging, empowering, and insightful. At this point, both you and your attendees will be asking: what’s next?
As a facilitator, you should be actively listening and thinking about the actions that should be taken to move the culture forward, during and after the event.
Next steps could include a plan to engage other teams, or create a communication plan to roll out new announcements from the discussion. It could even be the introduction of a new process and governance. It could include new guidelines about how decisions are made. These actions should address specific items that came up during the session. You won’t have to worry about gaining buy-in, simply because the people involved created it! This entire process ensures that the plan is not only well-planned and collectively created, but it also creates a deeper connection between team members as they get to know each other along the way.
Element 6 — The Follow Up
It’s important that you provide individuals the opportunity to ask more questions, bring up after-thoughts, and provide a space for those to speak to who did not feel comfortable sharing on the spot. One way to do this is to offer follow-up times at the end of the session for anyone who wants it.
One example of a follow-up item is a summary that includes the list of action items that the collective group agreed upon. You can also host a follow-up session in a month or two after the initial session, to gauge how people are feeling about the progress on the action items.
As you continue your Journey of Culture Evolution…
We encourage you to apply these elements in your sessions going forward. No matter what challenge, issue, or system you are engaging, explore it by holding space for progressive dialogues.
These 6 elements provide a structure that allows progressive dialogues to take place. There are more nuances and complexities to each element, but these are the basic necessities. Adopting Cultural Evolution practices lead to the development of stronger, resilient, and sustainable organizations.