Culture Mapping

Background: Culture is often an abstract buzzword used to describe undesirable attributes or behaviors exhibited by groups of people within an organization–’we need to fix our culture!’ Unfortunately, because the term is used so abstractly, the accompanying solutions are also too abstract–’all we have to do is hold people accountable and the behavior will change.’ Oversimplified, abstract problem diagnosis equates to oversimplified, abstract solutions; many of which don’t pass the fundamental attribution error logical fallacy. This logical fallacy exists when someone attributes people’s behaviors to ‘the way they are’ rather than ‘the situation they are in’ and is more prevalent when root-case analysis is rushed (Hearth C. & Hearth D., 2010). Culture Mapping provides a repeatable methodology for transforming culture into a tangible set of measurable attributes and is a form of Organizational Design defined as “a human-centered approach to improving how people work together and how companies respond to change” (“What is Organizational Design,” 2018). 

Overview: The Culture Map developed by Alexander Osterwalder in 2015, resembles any other Air Force sensing session where participants are asked to share their surface-level gripes and complaints within the organization. Except, Culture Mapping is not just about the negative cultural attributes and, most importantly, it’s a highly structured and delebriate process. By providing the facilitator with a structured methodology for asking questions and tools to go deeper than just surface-level grievances, participants are able to feel comfortable opening up, while also being prompted to go beyond their immediate point-of-view to look at problems from different lenses. Setup: For Culture Maps to be effective, facilitators must be from outside the team and sessions should comprise 3-6 participants who will feel comfortable sharing their thoughts in-front of each other–this can mean separating sessions between Airmen and NCOs. No particular type of space is required to facilitate the sessions other than somewhere quiet with either a large whiteboard or open wallspace–many Culture Mapping sessions have been done in hallways. For supplies, all that is needed is a full-stack of blank post-it notes, one dry erase marker, and one Culture Map printout for facilitator use.

Part One: Once all participants arrive at the Culture Mapping session, the facilitators will ask the participants to scan a QR code that takes them to survey that can be created on Google Forms formatted like this example form. This survey help make a more accurate Tribal Leadership Stage assessment, calculates the unit’s and team’s Net Promoter Score, and is used to calculate the team’s collective company culture preference and current company culture type using HBR’s Eight Types of Company Culture. Afterwards, the team’s and unit’s leadership are asked to complete another Google Form survey formatted like this example form to calculate the team’s and unit’s company culture type goal.

Part Two: The second half of the Culture Mapping process is the actual in-person, structured sensing session outlined below.

Methodology: The Culture Map is divided across three sections: outcomes, behaviors, and enablers and blockers each coming with their own series of questions. It’s up to the facilitator’s discretion as to which questions within each section get asked. When participants respond, they then write their response on a post-it note and then place the post-it note on the whiteboard or wallspace with responses within the same section horizontally aligned and responses within similar themes vertically aligned. 

The outcomes section captures results produced by the team’s efforts when accomplishing their work center’s tasks. Questions include: “what are the results we are seeing,” “what happens because of our behaviors,” “what are we getting done,” and “what is the impact?” Typical responses include ‘earning a paycheck,’ ‘saving lives,’ and ‘hard work is rewarded with more hard work.’ This initial line of questioning does not generally produce any actionable insights, but it acts as an icebreaker allowing participants to get comfortable and better understand the activity. 

The behaviors section, described as specific, tangible, concrete, and observable, is where responses start to get interesting. From here on, participant responses are aligned under similar themes noted within the previous section–if not similar themes exist then the response starts its own theme. Participants are asked “what does a great day here look like,” “what does a terrible day here look like,” “how do we get things done around here,” “ what is a specific example of a typical behavior,” “ how would you describe it as a scene in a movie,” “can you tell a story about a typical pattern of behavior,” and “how does that make you feel?” 

Finally, the enablers and blocker section dives deeper into the previously identified behaviors to get past surface-level grievances by viewing the behaviors through different lenses–something that doesn’t typically happen in traditional sensing sessions. When the following questions are asked, they are in reference to previously identified behaviors. Participants are told to think about explicit and implicit rules within the work center before asking “why do we behave that way,” “ what causes or influences that behavior,” “what are leaders saying or doing that enables theses behaviors,” “how are people rewarded for these behaviors,” “how does the physical work environment enable these behaviors,” “ what needs are being met by these behaviors,” “what blocks us from behaving differently,” and “what are the unwritten rules.”

Once the Culture Mapping session is complete, the facilitator transcribes the post-it notes onto a PowerPoint slide visualization replicating the same format and placement used in the session. Each session receives its own PowerPoint slide so that patterns can be recognized across multiple sessions. Pattern recognition within the one singular session is not recommended given the vulnerability to groupthink. 

Culture Mapping at Scale

During the Culture Mapping session, use a second facilitator to transcribe participant responses into a Google Form formatted like this one: Each physical post-it note placed on the wall should be transcribed into the Google Form with the participants expressing how positive or negative the item contained on the post-it note is on unit culture or mission impact and what sub-Major Graded Area to categorize the response.