Culture Mapping

Last week XPLANE’s Director of Consulting, Stephanie, and I headed down to San Francisco to run a workshop on Culture Mapping.


For us, understanding the audience and their needs is always the focal point of any experience design. In this case we anticipated that our audience would be mixed. We’d likely see representation from both start-ups looking to create and scale culture to large established organizations seeking to understand and change culture. So in typical XPLANE (i.e. overzealous) fashion we tackled both… in two hours. After an overview of some organizational culture basics we presented a ‘choose your own adventure’ for our participants:

Adventure #1: Create & Scale It
The first step in creating culture is to identify the future state or “aspirational culture” you would like to achieve. To do this, groups experimented with seven different games intended to get them thinking differently and holistically about what goes into culture. The activities ranged from exploring the company vision to choosing a celebrity mascot to represent their ideal culture. Once their cultural attributes were selected they were asked to draw and share them.
Adventure #2: Understand & Change It

Understanding a mature culture within an established organization (whether officially documented or not) requires a different approach. We looked at the approach and theory behind Dave Gray’s Culture Mapping Tool. We explored the layers that influence and create culture, both intentionally and unintentionally, and discussed the importance of continually asking WHY to get at root causes. Groups practiced with the tool by interviewing each other, documenting the outcomes, and exploring underlying causes.


Given the time constraints, we were just able to scratch the surface of these techniques but the experience was energizing. The room seemed to hold an intense collective respect for culture. We know what a strong influencer it is, in that it has the ability to make or break us as organizations and, on some days, as people. We also know how complex it is and therefore how hard it can be to change, especially when you are one in the sea of many. I’m pretty sure there will never be a simple one-size-fits-all recipe card to culture mapping but we’re excited to continue to evolve our techniques, research, and practices in this area so we can help companies create, scale, understand, and influence their own organizational culture.

Please check out the deck on slideshare

Check out Dave Gray’s site dedicated to this work:
And check out culture lab, a leader in bringing people together around this topic:

Kathryn Jarrell is the Chief of Service Delivery at XPLANE.

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November 23, 2016
Kathryn Jarrell