#Blogtober: Mapping the landscape - some thoughts on organisational culture

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15 / 10 / 2014 12.01am

By Sandy Wilkie

#Blogtober Day: Wednesday 15 October

"From up there you could see all that land; from the Back Settlement westwards where the railway moved into the pass, following the road toward the power station, the village beyond where the pass widened out towards the concession lands. Birches clustered in sprays where the dried-up burns dipped into the streams....Flickers were coming off the loch and the massive sky seemed filled with a sparkling dust above those hot summer hills, fattened with plants and trees."

Alan Warner, Morvern Callar (1995)


Authors who set their stories within geographical & literary landscapes have always captured my imagination. From the imagined reality of Fens childhood (Graham Swift, Waterland, 1983) to the more recent landscapes of Argyll (Alan Warner) and East Anglia (Jon McGregor). Framing stories within the landscape creates the opportunity for connectedness, identity and 'sense of place'.

The metaphor of an organisation landscape is a powerful concept. All organisations have history, structures, flows of information and physical artefacts. The concept of cultural mapping can capture organisational traditions, portray current features and hint at future landscape change. With the past and present context understood, scenario-planning can be used to map out organisational development options in the future.

Cultural mapping can bring our organisational landscapes to life. Techniques such as Appreciative Inquiry can give us that historical insight we need in order to understand evolution. The use of Metaphors can help us bring the current structures, processes and (sub)cultures to life; Storytelling can help paint a picture of how our organisational landscape might develop. If this sounds too esoteric and left-field, fear not; all of this can be portrayed practically though a visual set of cultural maps/overlays.

Possible enhancements that could enrich the process of cultural mapping also exist. The use of Metasaga (Emil Joseffson, Kate Coutts) combines exploration of the physical landscape with storytelling in the Norse Saga tradition. The use of 'Oblique Strategies' (Brian Eno & Peter Schmidt) can help unblock thinking when trying to perform a creative task such as future scenario planning. And I wouldn't even rule out 'gamification'; a horrible phrase, but a good friend of mine demonstrated something of this using her FarmVille application recently.

I'm certainly not adverse to online tools that might assist organisational mapping, but for me personally there is real value of working with paper, pens and materials that makes cultural mapping even more tangible and real; and creates the thinking to ensure it is both a reflective and engaging process for groups. For example, tactile nature of shuffling and selecting the Oblique Strategies cards from the physical deck adds a sensation that similar online apps cannot replicate.

So what next? Well I'd love to play with these cultural mapping ideas further. I'd like to experiment with tools to capture real organisational landscapes. It's a concept that would work particularly effectively in the NHS setting, understanding the roots of healthcare in Victorian asylums through to the current challenges under new commissioning structures; through to future scenarios with fully integrated cultures across health and social care.

Interested in making this happen? I'd like to invite my colleagues from the Do OD Network to get in touch to see if a bit of co-creation can make cultural mapping happen in a real organisational landscape. Please use my contact details below should this be something you would like to test out and you could be part of something great.

There is insight, richness and beauty in our (organisational) landscape to be understood and appreciated.


"When the mid-morning comes the sky is the colour of flowering linseed, a pale-blue hint of the full colour to come. Sometimes there will be clouds stretching, tearing, scattering patterns across the fields."

Jon McGregor, 'In Winter The Sky; Upwell', This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You (2012)


Sandy Wilkie has held OD posts within the NHS and the Higher Education sector. He can be contacted via email address lizardvanilla@gmail.com and you can read more blogs from Sandy at lizardvanilla.wordpress.com.

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