Pollock: team activity to create a cultural abstract

Organizational culture can be abstract, so what better way to represent it than with an abstract painting? 

Gather your materials: a large canvas, 2"-3" chip brushes, and bowls of slightly watered acrylic paint, and a large painter's drop cloth.

Show this video clip from the movie Pollock.

Ask the group for insights and impressions. Explain that:

"Most of our day-to-day work and thought is dedicated to things that are concrete, tangible, and right in front of us. THIS is an opportunity to pause and dedicate time to think about our culture. But unlike our day-to-day tasks, culture is more abstract. It's harder to illustrate culture because culture doesn't have shape and form. 

"Shortly, we're going to have a conversation about culture. To prepare for that, we want to provide you a medium to help make culture more real. In a moment, you're going to create an abstract painting that represents your culture. You're going to illustrate your culture. Use color and motion to express that culture. You can talk to each other if you want to, but don't plan this. Don't explain it. Don't try to verbalize WHY or HOW. Words can get in the way at this point. And don't try to be symbolic or representative. Just be present. Be in the moment. Think about the FEELING of being in your organization, and let the paint speak for your feelings."

"No time limit for this: you tell us when you're done. And please try to keep the paint off the carpet."

Play this music clip while the group paints.

When the group finishes, debrief:

  • How did that go?
  • What insights did you receive?
  • What did it feel like?
  • How long did it take you to get comfortable with it?
  • What was going on for your while you painted?
  • Did you speak to each other? Why/why not?
  • How would you explain this work to others?
  • What does this say about your culture? 

Thanks to my colleague Tom for teaching me this fantastic activity, and for providing the foundation of this PowerPoint version!

Tips:

  • Set up and clean up both take about 30 minutes. Leave time in the agenda.
  • Limit paint colors to be in keeping with the client's branding or to pick a pleasing color scheme. Have a premixed color scheme ready in bowls.
  • It takes a while for the painting for dry: plan how you'll transport a large, wet painting. 
  • Do it outside, or use LARGE drop cloths: participants can really get in to throwing paint!
  • Provide shoe covers so participants don't get paint on their shoes.
  • I chose acrylic because I like the richness of the color, but washable tempera could have worked just as well.
  • I prepped the canvas with a neutral, gray gesso... my own opinion, but I believe it turned out better like this rather than using a white background.