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How to Reset and Evolve Your Company Culture – Exercise

Reset your culture: What should be? What could be?

By Gustavo Razzetti

January 5, 2022

The culture that got you here won’t help you succeed in a hybrid workplace

There’s no back to normal – hybrid work is here to stay. But what will it take for your company to succeed?

It’s the fastest work revolution you’ve ever heard of and it’s happening in plain sight. Over the past decade, pundits have tried to anticipate what the future of work could look like. However, the effects of the pandemic have been so profound and unexpected that most predictions have fallen short.

Everyone’s struggling, whether with their career, job, or culture. And not just ‘employees’ – leaders are lost, too. The longer they try to apply their past mentality into the new reality of work, the more their teams will suffer.

As a leader, you need to ask yourself, “Will the culture that brought us here help us thrive in a hybrid workplace?”

That’s the first step.

How your team works together is vital to your success. As we continue to experience an unprecedented disruption, from a global pandemic to the Great Resignation, what got you here won’t get you there. It’s time to reset your culture.

The Benefits of a Culture Reset

Many organizations start the new year by reviewing the previous year’s results. Usually, the conversation revolves around strategy. Leaders want to understand what worked and what didn’t.  

A culture reset presents a similar opportunity. But, rather than focusing on strategy, the conversation happens around mindsets, emotions, behaviors, and practices. You review the “way we think, feel, and do things here.”

As I’m writing this, most companies have once again postponed (some indefinitely) the return to the office. This provides a unique opportunity. Instead of waiting for things to go back to normal, reboot and upgrade your operating system and thrive in the new reality of work.

A culture reset gives you, as a leader, a chance to check the pulse of your team and get input from everyone (Hint: it's the first of five steps I recommend in my new book Remote, but Not Distant).

Once you’ve run this activity, you don’t need to wait for another disruption to review your culture. My recommendation is to do it quarterly. Your company culture is a wicked problem – you’re never done improving it.

As I tell my clients, set a regular time to reflect on your culture. Repetition drives perfection. The more you practice reviewing your culture, the better you’ll become at understanding what’s working and what’s not.

Culture matters, but you must show it matters to you. Make it a priority. By setting aside regular time to discuss your team’s or company’s culture, you will not only be able to improve it, but also show that it’s vital.

The Power of Interesting Questions

The quality of a culture reset depends on the quality of the questions. Ask the right ones and let the conversation flow. Just listen. Open-ended questions invite a more interesting dialogue than simply assigning a score.

There are three things that your team should discuss:

What aspects of our culture are getting us stuck in the old normal? This is an opportunity to identify and address the things you want to get rid of.

What are the things about our culture that will help us succeed in a hybrid workplace? This question helps acknowledge the things that you want to preserve.

What is our culture missing? This question invites you to reflect on new behaviors, skills, or practices that you need to add or start practicing.

In the following section, I will explain how to facilitate the conversation and provide a list of questions that spark great conversations.

The Culture Reset Canvas: How to Use It

How many times have you felt that your culture no longer serves you? Or that the ‘ways we do things around here’ were defined for a different era?

The Culture Reset Canvas is a simple tool to facilitate crucial conversations about what’s working and what’s not working. Most importantly, it’s an invitation to design the future, leveraging the good practices you should preserve.

The tool has three circles. Each captures a crucial question:

- What used to be?

- What should be?

- What could be?

the culture reset canvas defines what culture used to be should be and could be

The Culture Reset Canvas is a powerful framework to help evolve your culture in the right direction. It starts by reflecting on what the culture used to be – both good and bad. Then, it encourages you to reflect on the elements you want to preserve – the good within your team. Lastly, it invites you to dream of a better future: to evolve the current culture by integrating both the things you want to preserve as well as those you want to incorporate.

The tool achieves two goals: to revisit the current culture with critical eyes and appreciate what’s working and should be preserved. It’s a tool to facilitate a retrospective – to help your team continuously improve its culture.

As Ben Linders wrote, “We need to uncover better ways to improve and retrospectives can provide the solution.”

Here’s how to facilitate it.

Step-by-Step Facilitation

You can facilitate this conversation in person, remotely, or a combination of both. I recommend using MURAL or similar to provide a space for everyone to share their thoughts, discuss, and capture the agreements. Choose a facilitator to manage turn-taking and guarantee equal participation.

Kick-Off (10-15 minutes)

Download the template in PDF and MURAL format.

Introduce the goal of the session and the Culture Reset Canvas framework.

Start with a quick check-in round or facilitate an icebreaker. For example, inviting team members to share “I’m amazing because…” is an excellent way to reinforce interpersonal relationships and kick off with an appreciative mindset.

Define and share the ground rules to promote a safe and collaborative space. The success of the session depends on people’s candor and active participation.

What Used to Be? (30-45 minutes)

In this part, you want to capture two things:

- Your culture pre-pandemic

- Your culture once people were forced to work from home

Discriminating one from the other will help you understand what was working in the past, what stopped working in the new reality, and the improvements that your team made.

Use the following questions to inspire a richer debate:

What do you love most about this team? What brought you here and what has motivated you to stay?

What do you value most about your team members?

What gives/gave life to our organization?

What were our highs and lows? What has driven each?

What are the core factors behind our success? And the ones that get us stuck?

When we played at our best, what did you see, who was involved, how did we make decisions, and what were our strengths? (Repeat for when we played at our worst).

Think about a story of overcoming a challenge that makes you feel proud of this team. What happened? What was the obstacle? What enabled us to succeed?

Start with a silent brainstorming, having each person capture their ideas in silence.

Have everyone share one thought at a time. If someone has already shared a similar idea, people can say they agree or are aligned, but should read a different sticky note.

Group similar ideas and find a theme that best describes the cluster. Avoid focusing on just the most common topics. Sometimes, an issue can be crucial, even if it’s brought up by only one team member.

What Should Be? (15-30 minutes)

Review all the groups and discuss the things that you want in and out – the elements of culture that you want to preserve and those that you want to get rid of.

Use the following prompts to facilitate the discussion:

What are the key themes behind our success?

What mindsets and practices from our past were vital to adapt to WFH?

What mindsets and practices from the past got in the way in a WFH/ distributed workplace?

Which practices and mindsets from the past should we keep?

What are the things that no longer serve the team?

What are the areas in which we made a lot of improvements (collaboration, feedback, psychological safety, meetings, etc.)?

What contributed the most for us to successfully adapt to the new reality?

Who helped you the most and why?

What new behaviors and practices have we adopted during the pandemic that we should preserve?

Not everything you want to get rid of is bad. Some processes or behaviors must have worked in the past but might no longer serve the team in a hybrid workplace. These are the hardest to spot and let go of.

The CEO of one of my clients loved to host a monthly lunch to celebrate high performers. Amid a pandemic that ritual became difficult not only because of social distancing, but also because working remotely hindered people’s performance unequally – parents, especially single ones, have suffered the most.  

The team must be aligned on what they want to preserve and get rid of before moving to the next part. If participants get stuck, the facilitator can use the consent process to unlock the discussion.

What Could Be? (30-45 minutes)

The third step (or circle) is about imagining a better future.

Start by inviting team members to dream about what the future could look like. Encourage them to imagine they're doing the best work of their lives. What are they doing? With whom? And how?

In this exciting future, how do we operate as a team? What defines being a role model in our team? What behaviors and mindsets make us proud? What systems and methods help us do better work? What communication structures are in place? How do we hold each other accountable and support one another?

Allow a couple of minutes for everyone to dream on their own and then share their vision of the future with each other.

The team should agree on the shared future.

Capture the behaviors and practices from the second circle that will help you get there. Identify which need to be evolved/ adapted and which will continue to work as they are. What’s missing? Design the elements of culture that need to be incorporated to help your team achieve the dreamed future.

Wrap up the session defining an action plan: who will do what and when.

Why You Must Reset Your Company Culture

Now more than ever, your workplace culture will be put to the test. Is your company ready for the new reality of work? What are the areas that no longer serve your team?

The Culture Reset Canvas is a simple framework to promote crucial conversations about culture. Every opinion counts. Some team members won’t have much to say. Others might be more challenging when it comes to reviewing the way we (used to) do things around here.

The tool is easy to use. However, facilitating profound conversations is not easy. Some topics might be hard to swallow. Others might even put you on the spot. Whatever happens, listen without judging – encourage the team to continue the exploration.

The purpose of a culture reset is not to attack or celebrate your current culture, but to ensure it will help you thrive in a hybrid workplace. The future is uncertain and challenging. What should it be? What could it be?

What do you think?



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