Facilitating the emergence of cultural indicators

August 25, 2007

Recently I completed facilitating my ninth Cognitive Edge Archetype, Theme, and Value workshop. This method involves allowing a group of people to share stories (possibly customers talking about a product or experience with receiving a service, patient’s experiences when receiving care in hospitals, employees about everyday work, etc.) in a certain context and then running wall exercises (papered walls with lots of hexagon-shaped post-it notes) to identify the emergent archetypes, themes, and values that are embedded in the stories that were shared. As a variation of this you can have a group also review other types of material such as news articles, photos, artwork, etc. and include this material with stories that are told by the participants. I ran a variation of this workshop with a group of eContent conference attendees earlier this year for which an article was written.

One common way of using the outputs of this workshop is to contrast two group’s perspectives on stories or other material of the same topic or subject. So for example you can have management and the employees that report to them in two separate workshops covering very similar material but arriving at their own emergent archetypes, themes, and values. The contrast between the groups serves as a way to see how their perceptions and beliefs are biased based on their experiences and perspectives. It is great to bring these groups together to then make sense of the results. One of the things we ask in sense-making workshops is for the perspective groups to explain to each other the similarities, differences, and surprises between the two sets of outputs. This in itself offers a significant intervention method to get two groups to appreciate their differing views, have the opportunity self-reflect on and realize some of their own biases, and move to action on the basis of appreciating and better understanding each other. Some of this can be hard to take since the authenticity of disclosure in these workshops, I find, is always surprising.

Just like the bees and ants (see previous post) work at the agent level unaware of the patterns of their interaction at the group level, participants in archetype, theme, and value workshops engage in activities which in the end yield a set of cultural indicators (As, Ts, and Vs). If the participating group is a good proxy for a larger organization then the cultural indicators provide a good representation of the dominant cultural traits held by the organization. Contrasting between perspective groups reveals biases between such groups and allows for the ability to identify potential synergies and conflict points. Creating a condition for such sense making has high utility for improving management / staff relations, supporting mergers and acquisitions, and helping sales and marketing groups better understand their customers and target markets. However the approach requires that you facilitate emergence and do not impose any frameworks or hypothesis onto the process.

By Michael Cheveldave

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About the Cynefin Company

The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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