• Ian Sandbrook

Emotional Culture Deck: The Power of Simplicity

I’ve now had the pleasure of running dozens of sessions using the brilliant Emotional Culture Deck designed by Jeremy Dean and the team at riders&elephants. It has become an integral tool for my ‘Volunteer Environment’ workshops and for the sessions I run on wider organisational culture with sports organisations and other NFPs.

There is one certainty though with the tool – every session will be different because it genuinely encourages people to bring their unique view of the world to the table. And I love that!

When those different experiences and perspectives are allowed to be heard, discussed and understood, it creates a depth of conversation and connection that will be unique and meaningful to that group of people. A great basis from which to build culture.

I recently had the pleasure of running a day with a Primary School Senior Leadership team and their School Board. The idea was to create greater connection and understanding between these two groups that ultimately lead the school.

We went through a number of activities on the day, but in this blog, I wanted to concentrate on the simplicity and power of the ‘warm-up’ activity used when we use the Emotional Culture Deck to help map their emotional culture.

In the warm-up activity, each person individually sorts through their ECD pack to chose one black card (desired feeling) and one white card (undesired feeling) that they had felt in the last couple of weeks, and a short story to give context to why they felt that emotion. We then went around the room and shared our cards and stories individually.

It seems a very simple little task, but it is so powerful. I always find that this takes longer that you allocate, particularly with a group for the first time. This is because the cards give people permission to open up and provides them with the vocabulary to articulate their feelings.

Doing this with a group of teachers predominantly, I was in awe of some of the stories they shared. They work in a hugely challenging but rewarding industry, and the level of passion and commitment these people have for making a difference in people’s lives is truly inspiring.

What I found when they were sharing their stories in the warm-up was just how emotional people became. There was a lot of laughter, a lot empathising, and a lot of tears. It was the full range and it reflected the personalities of the people in the room and their wonderful experiences and viewpoints.

It made me reflect afterwards not to underestimate the power of this opportunity to simply share stories. I believe it set the tone for the whole day and created an amazingly positive energy and openness that allowed good things to follow. In a funny way, even if we had stopped there, we would have achieved a closer group of people with a better understanding and appreciation of each other.

One of the women summed up beautifully how many of them felt when sharing their stories. She said – “our big moments aren’t really BIG moments. They are a multitude of little moments, the little wins, that probably no-one but you notice, but they make everything worthwhile.”

Simply having the opportunity to share these ‘little moments’ (good, bad and ugly) with each other was an uplifting and powerful exercise.

If the emotional culture deck is teaching me anything, it is the power of simplicity when developing culture.

The simplicity of providing people with the ability to articulate their emotions – it’s amazing how many of us struggle to do that!

The simplicity of people sharing their unique stories and how we are wired as a species to connect in that way – again, it’s amazing how little we do that now, especially at work!

Put simply, this little tool is proving far more powerful than any contrived team building exercise, values discussion, or complex culture matrix, in helping create meaningful conversations and the building blocks of effective culture across a range of organisations and teams that I work with.

Do you want to learn more about The Emotional Culture Deck? There are a few ways you can you learn more about the deck:

·        Visit

·        Download a free Lo-fi PDF version of the deck at the website, click here

·        Download the #emotionalcultureworkshop for free here (yes for free but I can also facilitate this workshop for you and your teams if you wanted some help).

·        Depending on where you live, you can attend an Emotional Culture Masterclass (like I did), click here for more info

If you still have questions, feel free to contact me!

#theemotionalculturedeck #proelephantrider #designedbyridersandelephants

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