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The Personal Beliefs Canvas

Our beliefs - what we think is true or not – limit our possibilities.

By Gustavo Razzetti

August 4, 2022

Uncover and address the underlying assumptions that affect how you make decisions

Our beliefs – the things we think are true or untrue – shape our decisions. Whether we like it or not, our underlying assumptions play a crucial role in what we support or reject. From general views about people to more specific topics such as remote work, our beliefs often get in the way, limiting our viewpoints and decisions.

As author Kathryn Schulz wrote, “We look into our hearts and see objectivity; we look into our minds and see rationality; we look into our beliefs and see reality.”

I designed the Personal Beliefs Canvas to help my clients – both team members and leaders – challenge their perspectives. This means that they can explore possibilities rather than shut down when their beliefs get in the way.

In this post, you'll learn how to facilitate the tool and when to use it, as well as download the template.

When to Use the Personal Beliefs Canvas

You can use this tool as part of a regular team retrospective or when confronting a challenging decision the team needs to make.

Regular team retrospective:

You can use the Personal Beliefs Canvas in a team offsite, when launching a new team, or at the end or beginning of a project.

In this instance, it will help colleagues get to know each other better, understand commonalities and differences, and facilitate conversations about the role beliefs play. For example, beliefs such as "mistakes are embarrassing" or "asking for help makes me feel weak" hinder innovation and collaboration.

The Personal Beliefs Canvas is also an excellent tool for reviewing your company policies, norms, and rules. Use it to check the underlying assumptions behind those. Are your norms and rules based on freedom and accountability or control and distrust? In other words, do you believe that people should be treated as grownups or children?

Before making a challenging decision:

Often, teams get stuck in decision-making discussions because each one is trying to make a point rather than come up with a good decision. They're trying to win an argument rather than choose wisely.

For example, if someone believes that "people who work from home are not really working all the time," they will be less trusting of their colleagues and more likely to try to control how many hours people work and promote digital presenteeism.

How to Facilitate the Personal Beliefs Reflection Canvas

The exercise has two parts: individual reflection and group debrief.

Individual Reflection:

Have them complete sticky notes on the PDF or MURAL template. Ideally, have them tackle one section of the Personal Beliefs Canvas at a time.

1. I think work is…

Encourage them to think of all the beliefs they have related to work – from what their career means to them to work ethic. Share some examples to kick off the conversation: "I think a job should provide fulfillment," "I only care about making money/ providing for my family," "Either you work hard or you are not working," "I like to design my job around my personal life and not the other way around," etc.

2. I think people are…

Invite the team to capture their beliefs about the people working in their team/ organization. Consider the following statements to get them thinking: Do they think people are trustworthy or not? Do they believe that people are collaborative and generous or lazy and selfish? Do they think employees are self-driven or need to be managed by a carrot and stick approach? Do they believe people operate with a positive intent or not?

3. I think that if it weren't for me…

Ask participants to write all their beliefs related to their role within the team or organization, whether they are part of something or not. The goal is to capture the importance of their position within the team. For example, do they think ideas get better when they are part of the process? Do they believe that people work better when they're watching? Do they think everything revolves around them or that the team can work without them?

4. I think hybrid work is…

In the last section, you want to uncover which limiting beliefs can affect leaders' or team members' openness to a flexible work environment. Share some examples: "Culture suffers when people work remotely," "Impromptu encounters at the office spark new ideas," "Flexibility makes me more productive at work," "People who work remotely tend to work fewer hours than others," "Employees who show up more often at the office are more engaged," or "Working from home increases psychological safety."

Invite people to capture as many sticky notes as possible per each section.

Group Debrief:

The goal of this section is to address commonalities and differences, not have everyone agree on their beliefs. What matters is that people become more aware of how their assumptions can limit their thinking.

Take hybrid work as an example. Many leaders resist a hybrid work model not because of concrete experiences or data, but because of their underlying assumptions, as I explain in my book Remote, Not Distant. Many leaders think remote workers often slack off or are not as engaged as those who go to the office more often.

Forcing people to change their beliefs or impose one teammate's beliefs over others will make them defensive and shut down collaboration. Rather than approach it as a right-or-wrong situation, tell people that their beliefs are valid and so are their colleagues'. Invite everyone to challenge how they think using facts or data.

There are two ways to debrief this exercise: all together or in small groups.

If you opt for debriefing all together, ask each member to share one belief (a one-sentence description) and add it to the Personal Beliefs Canvas. You can cover each of the four sections one at a time or ask people to share random ideas from any section (I recommend the latter).

After all members shares one belief each, kick off the conversation. What are the commonalities and the differences? Which beliefs are getting in the way and how? Have we turned beliefs into an easy excuse to support the status quo rather than challenge it?

The second alternative is to debrief in smaller groups, in which case I recommend using the 1-2-4-All method to encourage progressive participation. After completing the personal reflection (1), pair people in duos and have them share their beliefs. They should agree on which beliefs they want to move to the next round (4). Merge two teams of two into a foursome and have them repeat the discussion. Lastly, invite each team of four to discuss their beliefs (shared and not) with the entire group (All).

Make sure to avoid groupthink along the different phases – encourage people to keep those beliefs that are worth discussing altogether.

Connect the debrief with the issue at hand if you're using the Personal Beliefs Canvas before addressing a hot topic such as a reorg, salary increase, or hybrid work policy discussions. Which beliefs are getting in the way? How can we use facts to challenge what we think? Do leaders' beliefs go against people's views? Do the team beliefs favor one scenario over the other?  

Variation: Get Rid of Beliefs That Have Expired

This idea came from my colleague Sofia Ansaldo. Imagine that your beliefs – just like food – have an expiration date. They were valuable and healthy at some point, but now they no longer serve you – they have expired.

Invite your team to identify the beliefs they're willing to let go of because the environment has changed.

The "beliefs that expired" metaphor makes it easier for people to change how they think as they don't think they are betraying themselves. It's just that times have changed. Their beliefs used to work but now their quality or 'freshness' has declined.

Make it okay to get rid of expired beliefs and invite people to get new ones.

Get Your Copy of the Personal Beliefs Canvas

Click here to get your copy of the Personal Beliefs Canvas (in PDF and MURAL format).

The Personal Beliefs Canvas was created by Gustavo Razzetti (Copyright © 2022 by Gustavo Razzetti and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License).

Attribution — You must give appropriate credit (author name, link to the original 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 the licensor endorses you or your use.

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