Mapping Culture with Archetypes

I feel as though culture is seen as the holy grail for creating a successful agile environment and I agree that having a vision of where you want your company’s culture to be is important. However, setting off in a direction without understanding where you are in the first place could end up being more damaging than staying still. Unfortunately culture isn’t a tangible object, it’s the set of predominating attitudes and behaviour that characterise a group or organisation. This means that directly asking employees what the culture is is unlikely to work – especially if there is a culture of aiming to please, trying not to upset those above or a general lack of trust between members of the organisation. This post discusses the output of a method Cognitive Edge have developed which tries to surface the culture of an organisation subconsciously through the use of archetypes.

What is an archetype?

An archetype is a very typical example of a person or thing that people are able to relate to. The Norse gods are good examples of archetypes. For example Odin, an archetypal ruler, will have been inspiring for kings at the time. Similarly, Thor is an archetypal warrior to which average Norse warriors will have looked up to when training for battle.

How might this be useful for an organisation?

Suppose we can generate a number of archetypes that members of an organisation can relate to. If we can understand the relationship between important characters or topics in the organisation and these archetypes, then we can work towards amplifying attributes of the archetypes that are desirable and dampening the attributes that aren’t.

What does this look like in the flesh?

As a lighthearted example, Mary Berry was one of the generated archetypes:

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 13.38.14

The name and image for the archetype were produced by participants of the activity. The words in the description that are in bold were taken from attributes also generated by participants.

The topic of ‘foodstuff’ was perceived as Mary Berry suggesting that members of the organisation are opinionated when it comes to food!

Okay, but how can this help?

While Mary Berry might not give much insight, other archetypes might. For example, a second archetype represented fun, inclusivity and friendliness. Many of the attributes for this archetype came from the ‘annual conference’ topic, suggesting great things about the conference!

Archetypes can also be used to work out where more work might be needed.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 15.10.40

The topic ‘fake news’ was related to the Bread Knife archetype, suggesting that it is complicating matters for members of the organisation. This could be a target for dampening. By identifying targets in this manner an organisation can make small steps towards a better culture without putting faith in a particular direction. Simple experiments can be run to test the dampening or amplification of certain attributes before making any large commitments that may otherwise be damaging.

Running the Activity

The Cognitive Edge website gives more information about the archetype extraction method. Ensure you have a good mix of people from different backgrounds within the organisation if you are going to run the activity and try your best not to introduce bias by influencing the direction of the activity.

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