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Nine Principles for Co-Creating Culture Change

By Sarah Lewis | 25 August 2016


How do you help organisations achieve positive, rapid and sustainable change?

Traditionally change in organisations has been a top-down, linear, compliance process; first designed and then implemented. In today’s fast paced and complex world this takes too long and is too hard. People resist the pressure. Instead we need change that is whole-system owned and generated, focused on maximising tomorrow not fixing yesterday.

To create that kind of positive, forward-thinking change we need to do it together. We need to co-create the future we want to see happen.

Co-creative approaches to organisational change such as Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space, and World Café have some very distinctive features that differentiate them from more familiar top-down planned approaches to change.

Here are nine principles to guide co-creative change.


  1. Change is a many-to-many rather than one-to-many process.

In co-creative change a lot can happen in a short space of time as conversation (and change) takes place simultaneously amongst people in various groups rather than relying on a linear transmission from top to bottom. It can feel messier and less controlled but the benefits of active engagement, participation and commitment far outweigh these concerns.

  1. The world is socially constructed.

By allowing that we live in social worlds that are constructed by interactions in relationship, these approaches recognise that beliefs, and so the potential for action, can be affected by processes or events. The co-creative change processes allow people to experience each other, and the world, differently and so adjust their mental maps of their social world, creating the potential for change.

  1. Conversation is a dynamic process.

Co-creative approaches to organisational change recognize that conversations and events take place in a dynamic context of mutual and reflexive influence. I act and speak in the context of what you are doing and saying and vice versa. This means that conversation is not a passive process for conveying information but is rather an active process for creation, and so holds the potential to create change.

  1. Organisations are about patterns so changing organisations is about changing patterns.

All of the above culminates in the understanding that organisational habits, culture, ways of being are held in place by the habitual patterns of conversation and interaction. Change these and you change the organisation.

  1. Change can occur at many levels simultaneously.

Rather than being focused on rolling out a pre-designed planned change, these approaches are much more focused on growing change from the ground up. A useful metaphor to convey this is that of by encouraging of lots of different plants to flourish on the forest floor by changing the bigger context, such as clearing part of the canopy to allow in more light. 

  1. You need to connect to people’s values to gain their commitment.

These approaches connect to people’s values as well as their analytic abilities. Appreciative Inquiry discovery interviews, for instance, quickly reveal people’s deep values about their organization and allow people with divergent surface views to form a meaningful connection at a deeper level that aids the negotiation of difference. 

  1. Hope and other positive emotions move people forward.

Appreciative Inquiry by design, and the other approaches by intention, focus on creating positive emotional states in the participants, particularly hope. Hope is a tremendously motivating emotion and is key source of energy for engaging with the disruption of change. By building hope in the group that the situation can be improved, these processes create great energy for the journey ahead.

  1. High-quality connections and high-energy networks facilitate change.

These are two concepts from positive psychology and increasingly research is demonstrating that they have a positive effect on creativity, problem-solving and performance. The co-creation change methodologies are highly relational and facilitate the development of meaningful relationships particularly across silo or functional boundaries, increasing the ability of the whole organization to change in synchronisation with itself. 

  1. Co-created change allows people to feel heard.

The very essence of the co-creative approaches is the emphasis on voice and dialogue as key components of change. As people are engaged with and have an opportunity to input to discussions about the need for change from the very beginning, and are also able to influence the design of change, they feel their voices and needs are being heard by the organization as the change unfolds. This greatly lessens the challenges of overcoming resistance or getting buy-in.


Much more about the features of co-creative change, guidance on how to do it, and practical information about on the key methodologies mentioned here can be found in my new book Positive Psychology and Change.

To learn how to use Appreciative Inquiry to facilitate co-creative change in organisations and groups, join my masterclasses in Sydney and Melbourne.

[This article was first published on Sarah's website, Appreciating Change, and has been lightly edited.]

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About the Author: Sarah Lewis

Sarah Lewis

Sarah Lewis is a chartered organisational psychologist and one of the leading experts in positive psychology and Appreciative Inquiry in the UK. An Associated Fellow of the British Psychological Society and key founder of the Association of Business Psychologists, she works with organisations around the world to achieve effective, sustainable, positive change. She is author of Positive Psychology at Work, Positive Psychology and Change, and joint author of Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management.

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