• Ian Sandbrook

The Flexibility of the Emotional Culture Deck

Over recent months I’ve waxed lyrical about the brilliant Emotional Culture Deck as a tool to facilitate meaningful culture conversations. In this blog, I wanted to write about the flexibility of the tool and how I’ve used it in a unique way to have impact with the groups that I work with.

I work primarily in the sports industry – my focus is on community sport, but I also do a fair amount in the organisational culture and high-performance team culture space. However, one of my favourite ways to use the deck is with volunteer-run community sports clubs in a session I call – ‘Creating a Great Volunteer Environment’. It is an area that is close to my heart.

In this session, I take clubs through the following steps using the deck:

1.      What does a great volunteer environment feel like?

2.      What does a great volunteer environment NOT feel like?

3.      How can we tell we are getting it right?

4.      Codify our volunteer environment

The session is about helping clubs to define what this looks like for THEIR club and people. It is about creating something unique and meaningful for them that will not only create a better and more focused environment, but also make their club stand out compared to competitors. The Emotional Culture Deck is central to this whole process and is amazingly powerful in helping people to articulate how they feel in a emotionally driven experience like volunteering.

I developed this workshop because I felt we needed to re-design the relationship between clubs and volunteers to try and address the struggles many clubs face in this space in a tangible, real way.

In my experience, we had been regurgitating the same old approach to volunteering and wondering why we weren’t really having any significant impact. The biggest issue that I hear from almost every club I come into contact with is that they simply don’t have enough volunteers. There is a definite disconnect between some of the stats we here about volunteering, and the reality on the ground.

When I reflected on this, I knew that the answer lay in the ‘human’ side of the experience – the emotional experience - and I just felt that we had largely been paying lip-service to how volunteers wanted to feel. And perhaps crucially, we were missing the important part of involving our volunteers in the process of crafting the volunteer environment they wanted. As we all know, we have greater connection and ownership of something where we have been consulted and involved in the decision making.

Therefore, I wanted to provide a practical, solution driven approach that clubs could use to re-design how they approached their volunteer set up. One based on input from the actual volunteers (not just the committee) and a shared sense of understanding and empathy that would draw people in and make them feel like this was ‘their’ volunteer experience and club.

The emotional culture deck has been a brilliant tool to help drive these conversations and make it safe for people to enter into the process. Therefore, I wanted to reflect on some the things I’ve learnt so far from delivering this, and some of the unexpected outcomes.

1.      It has helped overcome resistance to change – a common issue I see in clubs is a dominant figure within the set up (Chair, President, Secretary…) that simply takes control of proceedings and is resistant to change or is dictatorial. The unique nature of this session has simply got more people from the club in the room together to discuss what they want and don’t want. The session helps avoid ‘group-think’ and this has eroded the power of the one individual that might dominate in a small committee environment. Hearing the many and varied perspectives in a safe environment and then seeking consensus in a measured and fair manner, has allowed clubs to initiate the change they needed in this space they simply hadn’t been able to achieve before.

2.      Skin in the game - people love being involved in creating the environment, it’s common sense really! However, not many clubs do this. They might send out the odd survey (which very few people fill out) or ask the odd person, but they rarely do it a structured way like this. The most common feedback I get after this session is how much they enjoyed being asked how they wanted to feel and to help craft the culture of the club. The club showed it cared and by simply doing that people feel more compelled to help out and make it work – they have skin in the game.

3.      The olive branch - linked to point 2, the number of times I’ve had people say ‘I’ve not done anything like this before’ and ‘I’ve never had a club involve me in discussions like this’ has been amazingly positive. If we are talking about people’s discretionary time, then the club that does something unique like this and truly puts the volunteer at the centre of the discussion and crafting of the environment, will no doubt be better positioned to recruit and retain people in the long run.

4.      Overall club culture and USP - the most surprising thing to come out of this but is very logical when I step back and think about it, is that this session bleeds into wider club culture and USP. What started as a workshop to facilitate the re-designing of the volunteer relationship and simply helping clubs attract and retain more people, has essentially become a key cog in developing what a club stands for.

By working through a process that identifies what their people want to feel and some key behaviours and actions to bring it too life, the club has found clarity on what they are truly about. They have started the process of creating what I call ‘meaningful club culture’ and in doing so, have discovered a unique selling point for their club.

It isn’t forced, generic or made up, it is based on the real human discussions, interactions and connections made from the session and this makes it a powerful basis from which to develop the club and everything it stands for.

Delivering this session with the use of the emotional culture deck is the favourite part of my job. I see people open up and speak so passionately and sincerely about their experiences, their sport and their club. It is truly uplifting. I believe that re-designing the relationship and approach between clubs and volunteers in this way is the long-term strategy for shifting the dial in the volunteer space for club sport.

If you want to find out more about my services and how this could help your club or sport, please don't hesitate to get in touch -

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 #designedbyridersandelep

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