Blog post

Lights, camera, culture!

Explore the metaphor of theatre in relation to culture change and a new resource from the Do OD network.

27 September 2021


In this blog, Dr Stefan Cantore, senior university teacher at the University of Sheffield Management School explores the metaphor of theatre in relation to culture change, and Karen Dumain, co-lead for the national NHS Do OD network and national OD capability development lead at NHS England and NHS Improvement introduces a new resource on culture change.

Stefan Cantore: ‘Please take your seats ladies and gentlemen, the performance is about to begin!’

I have really missed hearing this theatre announcement over the past year. The excited buzz in the auditorium, the dimming of the lights and the curtain opening wide.

In the world of organisational theory there has been some history of using the theatre as a metaphor for life in teams and organisations. Managers and leaders are the actors, the stage is the context, and their tasks shape the scenes of the play. Of course, instead of being written in advance the scripts are performed in the moment. The dynamics change, the politics and power plays can be observed, and the consequences work themselves out as each scene develops. Influencing all this drama is the organisational culture including the symbolic stage scenery, the actor’s language, familiar patterns of relating and the stories told by the players. All combine to shape the whole performance.

At the Do OD national conference in March 2021, participants discovered that, through a guided process, it’s possible to imagine their own organisations and teams as theatre plays. Prompted by questions and images, patterns of relating previously unnoticed, stood out in sharp relief as each scene unfolded. The invitation to go back-stage in the imagination helped visualise the clutter that just sits there. Often, it's unacknowledged but reduces the space available for the performers. So many new insights and a very rich metaphor for exploring the drama of organisational culture.

Extended metaphors like ‘organisations as theatre’ enrich our sense of what we are experiencing in our own context. They also help us look at our own practice. What is your role in the drama of organisational life? Hero or Villain? Elizabeth Darcy or Lady Macbeth, Indiana Jones or Darth Vader? You choose!   

Karen Dumain: The OD practitioner and culture change: Provocations for organisations and systems

Culture is at the heart of our OD work in the NHS. Working with our NHS OD community we have been building and growing our body of knowledge, expertise, and resources on culture change.

Our latest resource, The OD practitioner and organisational culture, developed in partnership with Stefan is built around ten culture provocations and ‘what if?’ statements that invite us to examine and challenge our views, and practices. They have been created from research, through the lens of the challenge of changing culture in the NHS in 2021. 

At the end of the provocations are a set of ten questions to help you plan your next steps for action. Good conversations that start with great questions lead to powerful action.

Access the OD practitioner and organisational culture resource and set the stage for your culture show.

Break a leg!

We are keen to hear from you

Share your good practice examples of changing culture or let us know how you’ve used the provocations in your culture work by getting in touch with us at