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The Culture Change Canvas – Template and Facilitation Guide

Steer your culture in the right direction.

By Gustavo Razzetti

March 9, 2022

A culture design tool to imagine a better future building on the positive within your team

Is your team the best version of itself? Right now, are you the best leader or colleague you can be? If you were to change something about your culture, what would that be? If you were to preserve one element from your organization, what would you choose?

We don’t often ask ourselves those questions. We're so busy taking care of the work that we forget to take care of the enabler of great work: the culture.

The Culture Change Canvas is a reflection tool to invite you to stop and reevaluate your culture. Whether you’re a team leader, member, or consultant, this framework will help you facilitate more meaningful and actionable conversations.

Dream and co-create the culture you want to be. Who do you want to become? What is it about your culture that you want to preserve? What are the elements that you need to get rid of? What do you need to accept you won’t change?

In this post, I will share the framework, facilitation guides, and download links so you can get your free copy of the template (PDF and MURAL formats available).

Understanding the Culture Change Canvas

“If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up someplace else.”

― Yogi Berra

An effective culture evolution requires both a clear direction as well as the ability to build on the good within it. Many organizations want to improve their culture without having a clear direction in which they want to take it. Even worse, they dream of a better future without understanding their present reality.

The Culture Change Canvas will help you steer your culture in the right direction by visualizing the culture you want to be while leveraging the one you are.

Cultural change is often conducted with a fixer mindset: Leaders see the culture as a problem to be solved. By focusing on fixing what’s broken they only miss the opportunity to appreciate the good within, but they also fail to inspire people. Rather than change the culture, leaders must help it evolve.

The principles of Appreciative Inquiry shift the conversation from the traditional deficit-based approach to one of abundance. Rather than focusing on what’s broken, it encourages people to dream of a better future, building from what’s already working. This co-evolutionary and collaborative approach searches for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them.

This framework makes people acknowledge and value the existing capacities, strengths, and successes. It invites everyone to envision a brighter future by asking better questions. Through open conversations and practice, team members can identify opportunities and design how to get there.

I designed the Culture Change Canvas leveraging the principles of appreciative inquiry and was also inspired by Marshall Goldsmith’s tool for personal development: “The Wheel of Change.”

Meaningful culture change can be tricky because of several reasons:

  • Lack of self-awareness: Leaders find it hard to admit they need to change
  • Familiarity: Team members default to the usual way of doing things
  • Avoidance: We usually don’t make time to have tough but necessary conversations
  • Lack of guidance: Teams lack tools or proper skills to facilitate productive, actionable conversations about change
  • Blocking Mindsets: Team members see reality through limiting lenses rather than liberating ones

The Culture Change Canvas has four quadrants resulting from two dimensions that you need to consider in order to become the organization or team you want to be: the Positive to Negative axis and the Keep to Change axis. The first dimension captures the elements that help or hinder your culture. The second dimension encourages you to make decisions: What do you want to keep or change?

The four quadrants are as follows:

1. Preserve: This is the foundation needed for a successful culture evolution. Start by appreciating the good within your team and organization. It includes the positive elements you want to keep or improve – the continuity.

2. Accept: This quadrant is difficult for most people because it requires accepting that some things won’t change, are not under our control, or aren't things we can’t take care of right now. Acceptance doesn’t mean lowering the bar but making peace with it – focus your energy somewhere else.

3. Create: This quadrant invites us to dream about a better future as a team. It includes the positive elements that we want/ need to add or invent – how we build the desired future.

4. Eliminate: The last quadrant is an invitation to make tough choices. It represents the negative elements we want to reduce (do less of) or eradicate (stop doing). Don’t just consider bad things, but also elements that no longer serve the team – make space for better things.

All quadrants are interconnected – the Culture Change Canvas is a system. The steering wheel at the center of the canvas reminds us to take the driver's seat.

Accepting what we can’t change allows us to free our energy and allocate it elsewhere. Instead of fighting endless battles because the leader isn't helpful or feeling frustrated because of a particular behavior of a team member, you move on. Use that time and effort to focus on what you can improve.

Eliminating is also vital to make room for elements you want to create. What looks like resistance to change could be exhaustion. As the Heath brothers explain in the book Switch, burnout is a crucial reason why change fails. People can’t take on more ‘change’ initiatives when they're exhausted.

Culture Change Canvas – Step by Step Facilitation

Download your copy of the Culture Changes Canvas in PDF or MURAL format.

Before introducing the activity, prepare the team for success by asking:

Why are we here?

What do we want to achieve?

These questions should come from a place of curiosity, not perfectionism. Invite people to dream about the future. Give participants a couple of minutes to capture their thoughts. Once everyone shares their dreams and expectations, find some common themes. Look for concepts that will inspire people and move the energy in the right direction.

Align the team on what's driving the need to address culture change and the desired outcome for the session. Share the appreciative inquiry principle, encouraging participants to dream and build, not fix the culture.  

This tool can be used both in normal situations and crises. Whatever your case, promoting candid conversations is vital for success. Remember to focus on appreciating what's working, not just what's broken.

The team can work together or individually first, then everyone shares and all results are consolidated (the latter usually works better).

1. Explain the framework and the two dimensions:

Positive/ Negative

What we want to keep/ What we want to change

2. Introduce the metaphor of the driving wheel:

Assessing the four quadrants will help assess the current culture and steer it in the right direction.

3. Explain the different quadrants and let the team work on them – one at a time:

Start with acknowledging the positive and move on to the other quadrants.

Preserve: the elements that are working and we want to maintain. It could be a particular process, team ritual, or way of making decisions.

Accept: things that we don't like, but we cannot change or control. Acceptance means moving on: focus the energy on what we can control. For example, one of your colleagues might be too anxious and tend to interrupt others. Your team could decide to make peace with it and appreciate all the others skills that member has.

Eliminate: things that no longer serve us that we want to get rid of us. Do you need to kill one project so you can focus on another that's more exciting? Are there conversations dragging the team down?

Create: missing elements that we need to incorporate. Think in terms of mindsets, behaviors, or practices. Does the team need to clarify expectations on which communications methods to use for escalating conflict? Do you need to craft a team purpose to align the team? Do you need to create flexible norms to allow people to work at their own pace/ time?

5. Tackle one quadrant at a time:

Have team members share one sticky note each. Encourage them to build off each other’s notes. Ensure people provide context and that everyone can challenge one another. The idea is to have a productive conversation – don’t rush alignment.

Move to the next quadrant once you have completed one.

6. Narrow down the list:

Revisit the end result and ask them to choose only three ideas/ sticky notes per quadrant. Practice an elimination round. First, get rid of all sticky notes that are too obvious or not very significant (e.g., “camaraderie” as one of the things we want to preserve. Run a couple of elimination rounds to remove the noise and clutter. The idea is to eliminate what's not critical and finish with the three most critical elements per quadrant.

7. Brainstorm actions needed:

How are we going to achieve this action? What action do we need to take to move our culture in the right direction?

8. Wrap-up session:

Summarize what happened during the session, pointing out some of the key findings and great conversations that the team had.

You can also facilitate a self-reflection activity (e.g.: What are you taking home from today's discussion? What are you going to start doing differently? What was your biggest surprise?)

9. Share the results:

Distribute the completed canvas and action items with all team members.

This is not a one-off activity. Revisit the canvas every one or two months to monitor progress: see what things have been accomplished and which need to happen. For example, once your team successfully got rid of a bad habit, what else can they eliminate?

Culture Change Canvas Copyright & Licensing

The Culture Change Canvas was created by Gustavo Razzetti – Fearless Culture.

Copyright (c) 2021. Licensed under Creative Commons 4.0. You can use it for free but need to comply with the following:

Attribution — You must give appropriate credit (author name: Gustavo Razzetti, link to the original canvas: https://www.fearlessculture.design/blog-posts/the-culture-change-canvas, and provide a link to the license) and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests that the licensor endorses you or your use.

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