If you’re reading this, you are probably familiar with the Culture Design Canvas –  the strategic tool that captures the culture of an organization in one page. While the CDC (for short) is the central piece, the Culture Design Toolkit includes other vital tools.

In this post, I will introduce the entire toolkit and explain the purpose and role of each tool – as well as how they complement each other. You will also find the links to specific articles with facilitation guides for each tool and free downloads of the templates.

Understanding the Culture Design Toolkit

Four tools compose the Culture Design Toolkit – each one plays a different role:

  • The Culture Type Canvas
  • The Culture Design Canvas
  • The Cultural Tensions Canvas
  • The Culture Experiment Canvas

The Culture Design Toolkit addresses the four phases of culture design:

1) Strategizing: Before a company develops a new product, it must define its business strategy. Will it compete by price or by differentiation? Will the company focus on a narrow segment or a broader market? That same approach applies to culture design; before using the Culture Design Canvas, you must understand the different types of culture and in which space your company can and will play.

There are four types of cultures:

  • Tribal
  • Creative
  • Controlling
  • Competitive

I will cover these in a minute when we address the Culture Type Canvas. The elements of your culture design can change, but the type of culture takes much more time to shift – if possible at all.

2) Designing: Once you’re clear on the type of culture you have/ want to have, it’s time to design the elements that will differentiate your organizations from others.

The Culture Design Canvas has 10 building blocks divided into three areas:

  • The core (purpose, values, priorities and what’s rewarded/ punished)
  • The emotional culture (psychological safety, feedback, and rituals)
  • The rational culture (rules and norms, meetings, and decision-making)

3) Sensing: Culture is not something static, but dynamic; it’s always evolving and moving. The design process doesn’t end once you’ve mapped your team or company culture on one page. Cultural tensions get in the way, affecting collaboration, performance, and business results.

Individual and collective emotions, mindsets, and behaviors can move a team forward or backward. Sensing those tensions on a regular base increases awareness of what’s working and what can be improved.

The Cultural Tensions Canvas will help you uncover and address:

  • Emotions (blocking and driving)
  • Mindsets (limiting and liberating)
  • Behaviors (toxic and healthy)

4) Experimenting: We can’t know for sure what will work – or not until we try it. Culture design follows the same principles as innovation design: we want to test prototypes, not final solutions.

The Culture Experiment Canvas is a simple tool to test new solutions, such as new norms, team rituals, or feedback practices, for example.

The results of each experiment will define a course of action:

  • Discard the experiment if it didn’t work
  • Tweak it if the results were okay, but not great
  • Scale it when people loved the solution you tested

The Culture Design Toolkit: the Four Canvases

1.   The Culture Type Canvas

There are four types of organizational cultures, as I shared above ––though there are different shades of gray within each quadrant. Organizations need to understand where their culture lies before moving on to the design phase.

Each organizational culture type is defined by specific leadership styles, mindsets, and behaviors. Start by plotting where your organization is and where your key competitors are.

This is a tricky exercise that can create a lot of disagreement, mainly because some people confuse their real culture with the desired one.

An important consideration is that there are no right or wrong quadrants. Some might look sexier than others, but being consistent with how your culture operates is more important.

Also, we must separate the culture from the outcome. Certain organizations, like pharmaceutical companies, have controlling cultures, but that doesn’t mean they don’t innovate.

Similarly, don’t confuse the culture with the business you are in. Netflix and Pixar are both in the entertainment business – which is creative by nature. However, Netflix has a competitive culture while Pixar has a creative one.

This tool also works for assessing performance. Review the type of culture of your current employer and that of previous ones. In which kind of culture do you thrive? In which do you struggle?

Learn more about The Culture Type Canvas.

2. The Culture Design Canvas

The Culture Design Canvas is a blueprint to provide clarity, facilitate alignment, and uncover areas for development.

Mapping your workplace culture makes it easier for people to understand what your organization stands for. It also helps to identify the gaps between current and desired states.

You can use it to map your own workplace culture, design a new one, or map the culture of your competitors.

Some of the most common applications of the Culture Design Canvas are:

·       Map your current organizational culture to drive clarity and alignment

·       Map your future culture and identify gaps and courses of action to upgrade your company’s soul

·       Map local and global cultures, identify gaps, and define areas for localization (e.g., encourage local cultures to create their own rituals, establish local priorities, etc.)

·       During a merger and acquisition, mapping both workplace cultures facilitates a smoother integration

·       Team Culture plays a critical role, yet it’s usually undervalued. The Culture Design Canvas can help you to map and unlock the hidden power of team culture

·       When onboarding a new CEO, the Culture Design Canvas provides an understanding of what the company stands for as well as what’s working and what’s not

Read this post or watch this video to learn more about the tool, or join an online Masterclass and become a certified facilitator.

3. The Cultural Tensions Canvas

The Cultural Tensions Canvas will help you uncover existing tensions and how they affect the team. Map the different emotions, mindsets, and behaviors that impact performance.

This tool serves two purposes.

Firstly, it helps teams align on the current situation, what’s working and what’s not, what are the things that move everyone forward, and what are the ones that hinder productivity. 

Secondly, it helps prioritize and resolve ongoing issues. You can then use the Culture Experiment Canvas to start prototyping and testing possible solutions. 

Cultural tensions canvas a tool to capture, address, and resolve team and organizational tensions

Once the entire team has mapped the emotions, mindsets, and behaviors, they must identify themes or insights. How does the team deal with emotions? Which mindsets liberate creativity and which hinder performance? What type of behaviors are healthy or toxic?

In short, the Cultural Tensions Canvas will help you resolve tensions and move your team forward. 

Learn how to facilitate the Cultural Tensions Canvas.

4. The Culture Experiment Canvas

Once you have identified exiting cultural tensions, choose one or two, and design a solution to start fixing them. The Culture Experiment Canvas provides a clear path to turn your hypotheses into simple, actionable, measurable experiments.

The Culture Experiment Canvas has two parts: one describes the experiment and how it will be executed and measured; the other helps capture the results and define the course of action.

Testing the right experiment facilitates conversations to better understand the problem at hand, not just whether or not the solution works. Quantifying the results is essential to set specific goals and later evaluate how well the experiment performed.

After running the experiment, capture the results and decide if you will discard, iterate, or scale the solution tested.


The Culture Design Toolkit is a friendly and effective way to build fearless cultures. Its human-centered design approach helps design workplace cultures based on people’s insights and allows for rapid experimentation and iteration.

If you want to master the whole Culture Design Toolkit, join one of our upcoming online Culture Design Masterclasses.

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