How we dedicated an entire day to cultural alignment and activation
Eating our own dog food
It’s what comes naturally to us at New Kind—helping our clients create change in their organizations from the inside out. Facilitating workshops that stress the importance of company values, community, and culture for businesses to thrive. But what happens when we try to eat our own dog food and take a closer look at our culture?
Is our culture clear to everyone? And is it momentum rocket fuel for us to do our best, creative work?
As New Kind has evolved over the past seven years, it was time to ask these questions and to celebrate how far we’ve come. It was time to pause and create the space to have an open discussion on how our culture was performing.
What we know is that culture can’t be controlled and it can’t be left to find its own way. Instead, it must be nurtured in order to sustain growth and openness. And it must be owned by everyone. So, we decided to dedicate a full day to nurturing our culture—to test our latest ideas and be guinea pigs for things we’ll eventually be bringing to our client work.
Planning a purposeful experiment
Step one: make it real. We set a date on everyone’s calendars for New Kind Culture Camp. Because if you’re asking the business to shut down for one day, planning is essential.
We had the right approach in mind after attending XPLANE’s workshop at this year’s Hopscotch Design Festival. It’s a session-planning methodology called the double-ended pencil and it starts with opening up communication, followed by creating different paths of exploration, and then closing the conversation with an action plan forward or a final consensus.
Here’s how we sketched out Culture Camp at a glance:
Within the larger framework methodology of the day, we explored group exercises that would lead us to our final goal of having a definite understanding of what we wanted our culture to continue to be and where we wanted it to go. To create clear measures of success with each phase of the day, we outlined the goal of each and every exercise and what we wanted to gain. This meant a full month of preparation beforehand testing, retesting, and refining exercises in a small working team. To keep momentum and our fun meters on full blast, we looked for ways to involve different team members throughout the day.
Crafting a morning of alignment
To kick off a focused, full-day session you need two things: brain food and words of wisdom. The morning began with a mindfulness exercise guided by our Director of Brand Exploration, Elise Dorsett. We explored the foundations of mindfulness—including non-judgement, curiosity, acceptance, patience, trust, non-attachment, and compassion. The practice put us in the right headspace to listen deeply to each other.
To start the conversation we used a variation of the Barriers to Change card game to help everyone vocalize the barriers that may stand in their way to cultural change. We did this activity as individuals and then shared with the entire team.
But why start here? Because in order to nurture a culture, it needs to start from an open and honest place.
By openly vocalizing the barriers that stand in our way, we created a shared understanding about each other.
Exploring the root cause
Divided into teams of four, we mapped the root cause of each of our top barriers using the 5 Whys methodology. This approach repeats questions like “Why? What is this really about? And what causes this? What habits and behaviors contribute to this?” until the root cause of the problem is uncovered.
These were some of the most meaningful conversations of the day.
By examining what factors shaped our barriers, we created deeper understanding about our own habits and behaviors—the root causes.
How do you take all of the insightful conversations from the morning and turn them into an action plans? We created a framework shift that mapped: what we want to move away from (our root cause) and thus, what we want to move towards. We mapped an action plan of how we were going to create what we wanted to move towards and what we would gain from this shift.
By exploring what we want to move towards, we developed a litmus test for the ways we want to build our culture.
The power of making
Designer, Chris Sim, led the team in a one-hour session dedicated to the power of making. It started with a taco bar—of course!
It ended with a drawing collaboration modeled after the Exquisite Corpse. The theme? Our potential New Kind mascots categorized by land, sea, cave, and sky. The outcome? A glorious, creative mess of combined creatures. It was the perfect mental break we needed to kick off the afternoon.
Crafting an afternoon of activation
Time to take the lessons and conversations from the morning and turn them into action. We created a Culture Matrix that categorized all of the ways we work—how we give feedback, how we handle conflict, how we celebrate, how we collaborate. This Matrix had three objectives—to uncover the behaviors we value, to describe how we act on those behaviors, and to ideate on what those actions ultimately look like.
To begin, we first outlined what behaviors we value—for us these are the New Kind Spirits:
- We act as Sherpas to guide with humility.
- We act as Catalysts to form ideas with intent.
- We act as Citizens who believe in what we put into the world.
We then worked within each category of the Culture Matrix one by one to describe how we act on those behaviors. For example: “If we’re acting like a Sherpa, then how do we collaborate? If we’re acting like a Catalyst then how do we give feedback?” Coming up with words like constructively, openly, authentically we now had a roadmap for action.
Together, we imagined what these actions and adverbs look like in our day to day. Maybe it’s a simple informal behavior of remembering to be more mindful and not interrupting one another or maybe it’s as formal as creating the space for regular team lunches.
By ideating on what we wanted the New Kind culture to become, we gained new perspectives and fresh ideas to get us closer to momentum rocket fuel.
We took three of our strongest ideas from the Culture Matrix and ran a Prototype Sprint. This gave us the opportunity to start activating immediately. We took one idea, or action, and mapped what it’s going to take to make it real—the steps and behaviors. And to align with the morning session, we mapped what this will help us move towards.
By articulating how to make our ideas a reality, we created the opportunity to start activating today.
Together we mapped our team’s ideas on a Prioritization Grid with to axes—feasibility and impact. This gave us a clear jumping off point of what we want to work on immediately after culture day.
By prioritizing what’s possible now and what’s aspirational for the future, we outlined a clear roadmap of how we want to build our culture.
A full day of open dialogue, better understanding, lasting ownership, and actionable steps towards building the culture we want. Our Culture Camp created the space for both alignment and activation. It created the space for open and honest conversations. It created the space to to be grateful and to celebrate the fantastic idiosyncrasies of our culture that we want to keep. And it created the space for us to remember that each of us plays a role in creating the culture we want.
And for me? It created the space for a whole new dimension of what it means to be a leader at New Kind. It takes a good bit of empathy and a good bit of confidence, but we all have the power to take charge of the impact and growth we want to have here.
Ending on a high note
Phew! How do you come down from such an epic day? After a full-day brain marathon, physical exercise was necessary. We volunteered at Raleigh City Farm. Our time out in the dirt gave us the opportunity to work together, to decompress, and to give back to an organization that is helping shape the culture of Raleigh itself.
Oh right, and beers too…duh.