Collaborating to Shape Team Culture

I’m always curious about how teams create their own culture and how they can affect change to it from within.  While drumming up ideas surrounding collaboration for this month’s article series, I couldn’t help but recall one particular exercise from last year that illuminated a fun way to get teams to take a look at themselves, make choices about who they want to be, and figure out how to become that together.  Let’s take a closer look at Stop/Start/Continue!

Collaborating to Shape Team Culture 

by Becky Lemon, 5/29/19 

Have you ever been on a team doing a Stop/Start/Continue exercise?  I was first introduced to this particular method of collaboration last year while Vestalia Hospitality was going through a rebranding project with the talented agency Little + Co.  In a nutshell, the exercise itself can be used as a fantastic way for a group of people to recognize and affect the change they want to see within their own culture.  While it has many applications, I’m going to share exactly how we were lead through it.  You’re going to get a snapshot of what our heads and hearts thought about our culture in mid-2018, and, if you think it could help the environment on your team, you can use it as a blueprint for recreating the exercise with them.  Here’s how it went:

Our project managers at Little introduced this exercise as a way to help them understand who we were so they could distill our existing purpose and values into something that holds true for the whole organization and could be easily communicated to our teams and guests.  Present at the meeting were Vestalia’s owners Ann Kim and Conrad Leifur, the Director of Operations, Culinary Director, Marketing Director, the GM’s and Executive Chef’s from the restaurants, and me (Director of People and Culture).

They asked us to think about what’s true for the culture at all of our restaurants, what is it currently.  They captured our list of words on a white board.

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Then we were asked to add words that describe what we want the culture to be.

(We added Developing/Evolving, Commitment, Humble, Scrappy, Tenacious)

Each of us was given 3 Post-It notes, they asked us to stick them up next to the three words on the board that we thought were the most true of our culture at that moment.

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The ones that received votes got discussed so we all had a shared understanding of why they were selected.  Then they circled the ones we had voted for, they removed the Post-It notes and returned 3 of them to each of us.

This time, they asked us to place them next to the words that described our aspirations, what we most wanted the culture to be. It was okay to pick a word that we thought captured both who we were then and who we wanted to be.  Again, the ones with the votes got discussed for understanding.

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not noted here but sometime during the discussion we added “courage, ownership, inspiration, engaged, and meaningful” to our list of aspirations


Then we got up and did other things.  At that point, I thought we were done with the exercise.

Later, they brought us together in a cozy space and showed us our lists, which had been recreated on two separate, large sheets of paper.  We could all see our words reflected back to us, describing where we believed our culture was at that time and where we wanted it to be.  Then they asked us, “if you’re trying to get to the aspirational list, what would you need to stop doing, start doing, or continue doing?”  Here’s what we came up with:


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We shared our answers, discussed them, and made decisions about what we were committed to holding ourselves and each other accountable to.  That was it!  What we actually did with this information became ours.  While I can’t say that I lived out our stop/start/continue results to the letter everyday, it definitely had a lasting impact on me and how I showed up in my role.

The simplicity of the whole exercise was an a-ha moment for me.  It felt engaging and organic, and offered us a way to objectively and compassionately see ourselves and our culture, something that is hard to do when you’re living in it everyday.  We could celebrate the great stuff and own that our culture had not-so-great elements in it that we would never actively choose.  Gaining this perspective gave us clarity, helped us see how we were contributing to our goals and how we were putting up roadblocks to them.  From that place it was easier to see how we needed to actually behave moving forward.  We took talking about culture and environment out of nebulous, philosophical conversation and turned it into action.  

All along the way everyone was sharing, questioning, getting understanding, and coming to alignment around where we were, where we wanted to be, and what we needed to do to get there.  The owners were in it with us, not above us.  The really magic part?  All of us in the group recognized that if we wanted to see change, it needed to start with us.  We had to commit to realizing our aspirations and modeling the behaviors we agreed on.  We weren’t writing a prescription to be handed down for the restaurant teams to follow.

Since that day, I’ve found many opportunities to use the Stop/Start/Continue exercise in group situations, leadership coaching, and in my personal life.  How could it be useful for you?





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