Archive for Understanding Your Own Company Culture

213 — How To Draw Your Cultural Landscape

The Landscape Metaphor ®

It’s impossible to put most of life’s experiences into words. At work it’s fairly straightforward to verbally describe operational issues — projects, the finances, the structure and hardware. But when it comes to our personal life, what really counts — our relationships, hopes and fears, trust or lack of, apprehensions, being heard or appreciated or ignored, i.e. the immediate, concrete, ordinary experience of being an organizational member — words just don’t cut it.

For thousands of years people have used music, dance, art, and forms of literature such as metaphor and poetry, and more recently film, to convey human experience. Of course none of them get to the core of it, but they’re the best tools we have.

To help people describe the subtle complexity of the work culture, Royal Foote, Ph.D. at Meridian Group, developed a tool that quickly records and communicates many difficult-to-describe and often too-scary-to-talk-about-directly qualities of the work culture.

What I describe here may sound to some of you a little simplistic or even childlike. But I can assure you it works spectacularly. I have used it dozens of times to great effect. Many managers look back years later to these drawings, warmly and vividly recalling the issues the metaphor helped put on the table for discussion, often for resolution. Years later managers recall the relief they felt at last getting into the open deep-seated, chronic, frustrating issues around relationships, authority, and communications.

What to Do

Because it’s so strange and unconventional, the group has to be warmed up to the task. If you are the group’s leader/facilitator you tell them the group will divide into groups of 4 or 5 people. Each small group will draw one picture that includes all the elements that individual members feel are important at work. They all have 40 minutes to do the drawing and it can only use items that you find in landscapes — any kind of landscapes — but not words.

ALandscape Itemss facilitator you now ask the group to name things they might see in a landscape. Write down the words they say on a board or pad for all to see. They might start with trees or roads or houses or people. If the group gets into one track, widen their view with a question such as “How about in the tropics?” Or “What other kinds of landscapes do we have here in America?

When the list has 20 to 40 items on it and seems to cover a wide range of landscapes, say, “Now I would like you to take 40 minutes for each group to draw a picture describing how you experience . . . . . (name of the organization) using the elements from landscapes as a metaphor. No words. We are not looking for artistry. The picture should include what is important to each of you. You each have many important experiences that you can describe this way. To start you might discuss and agree on some general picture that will allow everything to be included. Everyone should contribute. You can all draw or not, but everyone must contribute and participate. The drawing must include everything you think is important. When we get back together in 40 minutes, I’d like each group to describe how it decided what to do and then what the drawing means. Any questions? . . . . . . . . . . . . Enjoy yourselves.”

Be Patient

There’s always confusion at the beginning. It’s a strange exercise and some people may be embarrassed: “Adults don’t do things like this.” But it doesn’t take long for each group to get into the swing of it. If you have a particularly small group of leaders or managers, say six or seven, you can still make two groups. It’s important that each group work independently so they don’t see or hear what another group is doing.

People usually get very creative, drawing forests with tall trees, race cars, mountain climbing, warships at sea, battles, playgrounds, money bags, battles. These describe important parts of the work culture conveying meanings that could not be described so clearly, simply and richly by any other means.

When you return, ask each group to describe the process they went through in deciding what to do, then what the drawing is and what it means. Usually each group will have one person speak for the group, but it’s a good idea to invite each other person in that group to add anything he or she feels was missed in the description.

Drawing a landscape metaphor is an excellent beginning for a retreat or a little way into the culture development process. The drawings reveal important areas for discussion that might otherwise remain under the table. Group members typically want to take these drawings back to the office and pin them in a very visible place. It’s a memorable experience. Two examples.

landscape 2

cc 213 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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212 — Culture Questionnaire

About People, Culture, and Leadership

This questionnaire quickly helps everyone understand the work culture and where to focus attention.

To use the questionnaire

  • Copy and paste the Questionnaire into your word processing program.
  • Add and subtract questions to suit your company and your needs.
  • Print a copy for each person.(You may choose to omit these instructions, or you may leave them.)
  • With the whole group together, have each person complete the questionnaire.
  • Tally the results, with no names attached. (more…)

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211 — The Cultural Interview

The Cultural Interview is a structured but informal conversation where two people get to know each other better. By building a relationship, this interview strengthens the culture’s foundation, setting the stage for improved communications, better decisions, and overall company performance.

In addition these interviews give managers a deep understanding of their company’s culture and where to focus their attention.

Build a Relationship — Not Solve a Problem

The Cultural Interview is not intended to gather information, or solve operational problems. Rather it is an opportunity for two people to understand each other better and share experiences. The Cultural Interview lasts about 40-90 minutes, is confidential, and is held in a neutral private place, such as a lunch-room or meeting room, over coffee, or at lunch, or just walking together around the facility. The ideal arrangement is two people sitting in comfortable chairs, informally.

This is a time for the manager to step out of his or her usual role as information giver, decider or question answerer. In the Interview, the manager or supervisor listens, understands, and builds a relationship. The Interview is best understood as part of the larger process dedicated to a more open, engaged, cooperative company culture.

Plan Ahead

Schedule the Interview in advance so that the other person has time to think about it and plan his or her day’s work. Let the person know well ahead of time that the purpose of the Interview is, “To get to know each other better.” If your interviews are part of a formal decision by the culture leadership team, you can tell them that also. Explain that the interview is confidential, about how long it will be, that it is not a problem solving discussion, and will not directly lead to actions.

Each Interview Is Different

Like people, each interview is special. Relax, make it a part of your personal style, and go with the flow. Make sure you share some of your own experiences during the Interview. Try to touch on something from each of the three general areas suggested below, but if you do not, that’s OK. Enjoy it.

Some Suggested Conversation Topics:


      • How did you come to be with the company? What did you do before that?
      • Childhood, school, where grew up? Parents, where from, occupations?
      • Children, spouse, home, hobbies, weekends, vacations?
      • What do you like people to know about you?
      • What would you like to know about me?



      • Future hopes, plans, work and non-work?
      • How do you see things down the road?
      • What do you look forward to?



      • What was it like when you first came here? Work history and highlights?
      • Recent experiences you have had here and what these mean to you?
      • Tell me about communications? And relationships?
      • What parts of your work do you enjoy the most?
      • And what parts do you enjoy the least?
      • What things would you like to change around here?


Interviews improve an organization’s culture by building personal relationships and introducing new kinds of discussions and experiences into the workplace. After several interviews, the manager will sense common or recurring cultural themes, on which he or she can then act appropriately, without violating the confidentiality of individual interviews.

Who Should Interview?

Anyone at any level in any organization can conduct interviews.

      • The Interview can be part of a formal top-down culture change process.
      • A supervisor can interview his or her team.
      • A person in one arm of an organization can interview a person in another.
      • Receiving clerk’s, frustrated by delivery schedules, have interviewed buyers, improving working relationships.
      • Operations managers and supervisors have interviewed across into technical support and maintenance functions, resolving long-standing issues.
      • People have used the Interview to cut turnover.
      • One employee used it upwards and was promoted, see Managing Your Boss.
      • Managers tell me they have used it to talk with their teenage children.


While classically the interview is between a team leader and the team members at any organizational level, it is also a wonderful way to get to know anyone you work with but don’t know very well. Perhaps you have talked for years with this person but only by phone. Just invite them to coffee or lunch, and very informally interview them. You don’t have to mention “The Interview”. You can interview people informally or formally, anywhere you think improved relationships would help.

Discuss Interview Themes at the Management Meeting

For the top management group, these interviews provide accurate, essential information about the company’s culture that will help leaders shape and direct the culture development process. After each manager has conducted four to six interviews, discuss the emerging themes at the manager’s monthly Culture Leadership meeting. If you are the leader of the management group, you must carefully curtail any discussion of specific interviews. Discussing individual interviews, or who said what, would be a breach of the confidentiality that is essential to the Interview program’s success.

Scheduling the Interviews

Management groups that decide to do these interviews often keep a list of all employees, and check off those who have been interviewed and by whom. This ensures that everybody in the organization will have opportunity to participate in the Interview process. Ideally every manager will do one Interview a week. If you are the group’s leader you must encourage each team member to follow their agreed Interview schedule. Part of that encouragement is you keeping to your part of the schedule. If you don’t do your Interviews, they probably won’t do theirs.

cc 211 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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