Leading Others

Create an Ideal Culture

This activity can be used for a team retreat or off-site gathering to generate a common purpose and explicit cultural norms for your team. If everyone on your team feels like they are part of shaping the culture, they’ll be more likely to live and incorporate that culture into all facets of their work. Workplace culture is comprised of six components: Purpose, Values, Behaviors, Recognition, Rituals and Cues. This activity helps your team articulate why it exists and how your team works together to get the job done.

For more information about Creating an Ideal Culture, click here to read the corresponding section in the Playbook.


3+ hours

Group Size


Skill Level


Comfort Level



Flip Chart, Markers, Sticky Notes, Sticky Dots, Laptop, Projector, Handouts

Step 1

Before the meeting, ask your team members to read the Culture Code booklet and to think about the questions posed in the booklet. You can also make hard copies to make available at the meeting.

Step 2

Start the meeting with an icebreaker. Ask that each person quietly thinks and writes the answers to the following questions (3 minutes):

  • What is the team’s purpose?
  • What benefit are we bringing to our nonprofit organization and our stakeholders?
  • What is one compelling story about our team’s work that illustrates our purpose?

Once time is up, ask each person to share their answers briefly in a minute or two. Make sure to collect the hard-copies of the responses at the end of the session.

Step 3

Share some examples of nonprofit organization or company mission statements, including your own organization’s mission statement. Here’s a great example from Netflix. Put a few examples on a slide or write them on flip chart paper. Now ask each team member to write their version of your team’s purpose statement. The purpose statement should communicate how your organization  impacts its beneficiaries. It statement should capture what it is that inspires you to do your work each day.

Step 4

Use a laptop and projector to share a blank Word document on the screen or alternately use a flip chart page. Tell your team that they are collectively going to create and wordsmith a team purpose statement that is no more than 20 words in no longer than 20 minutes. Use your mobile phone to set an alarm at 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and 20 minutes, and tell the team that you are setting alarms to help keep to the time.

If your team already has a statement of purpose, type it into the word document and kick-off the collaborative wordsmithing process using that statement.

If your team does not have an existing statement, begin by asking someone to volunteer to read their statement. As they read it, type it verbatim into the Word document. Next ask the group if they would they would like to add, replace, or delete. Keep wordsmithing the statement with the group, occasionally pausing to read the statement out loud and checking in with the group.

If your team is larger than 8 people, you might want to split the group into pairs or triplets before bringing the group back together to finalize the statement.

Most teams will be able to wordsmith a purpose statement in 20 minutes. Once your team has a statement, celebrate and take a ten-minute break.

Step 5

This next exercise focuses on defining your team’s values and behaviors. Values are beliefs about what is important and what is not. Behaviors are what people actually say or do in relation to one another. The Netflix Culture deck, slides 3-17, are particularly helpful in illustrating what a clearly defined work culture looks like. The other links in the Emerging Leaders Playbook may lead you to other examples. Ask the team to share examples they know that illustrate workplace culture.

Step 6

Give your team sticky notes and markers and ask them to write down words or phrases that describe your team’s culture. This brainstorm can reflect existing or aspirational qualities. Encourage the group to come up with as many ideas as possible, recording only one idea per sticky note (5 minutes).

Ask participants to lay out all sticky notes in front of them and prioritize their top three ideas.

Step 7

Request that all team members place their three sticky notes on the wall or whiteboard. While everyone is standing around the wall of sticky notes, pull out and cluster all the sticky notes that are related. Go through the clusters to unpack any reasons why these ideas were selected and ask for examples. Are these ideas existing or aspirational? What is missing?

Allocate 30 minutes for this exercise and use your mobile phone to time it. Prevent the group from getting stuck by asking questions and keeping time on track.

Step 8

Give two red sticky dots to each team member. Ask them to put their sticky dot on the themes or clusters they think are most important. Once voting is complete, facilitate a discussion on the ordering of the values. Allow 15-20 minutes for this group discussion.

Once completed, you have identified the values for your team. Celebrate and take a 5-10 minute break.

Step 9

During the break, transcribe the themes from the sticky note clustering and sticky dot voting into a Word document that is projected on the screen.

The next step is review each value statement and ask the team: What behaviors reinforce our values? How does that value translate into what we say or do? Add a summary of the discussion into the document.

Step 10

Congratulations! Your team has now drafted purpose, values, and behavior statements for your team’s culture. Collect all hard-copy materials so you can further refine the text and share it back out with your team. Once finalized, create a large version of this document and make it visible in your team’s workspace. Work with the managers in your organization to ensure that these values and purpose statements are regularly integrated into the supervision of your staff. Schedule a follow-up meeting with your full team in a couple of months to check-in.