How to co-design organisational cultures that people really feel they belong to

By Megan McBride

(…and improve recruitment and retention at the same time)

This month we shared a blog post highlighting the current staff retention issues that are both as a result of, and causing, great challenges across the county’s health and care systems. This has created a cycle which is exasperating the current sky-high demand on health care services, as well as negatively impacting organisational cultures and staff wellbeing. Unsurprisingly, staff are left feeling undervalued, burnt out and looking elsewhere to pursue their careers, with many even choosing to leave their profession.

Of course, there are many reasons why staff are leaving their roles and why people are no longer as attracted to certain careers in health and care. A big contributor is pay, but this is often out of the hands of health and care organisations and something our government must tackle. But is money the only motivating factor, and what can organisations do to take positive actions toward creating work environments where staff feel they are safe, valued and belong?

What we’ve come to understand is that creating a sense of belonging and ownership has become increasingly important for people to thrive within their teams and within their roles. And by ownership we mean ownership of their organisational values, mission and goals, and how they shape the future of their organisation.

“creating a sense of belonging and ownership has become increasingly important for people to thrive within their teams and within their roles.”

And that’s where co-design comes in, which supports the process of drawing on the lived experiences of your staff. For example, how they perceive the world around them, to understand the types of environments they require to thrive, what they value most in their personal lives and how these values are reflected in the workplace. This insight can then be used to co-design company values and a narrative that your staff own and feel they belong to, making them more likely to stay, as well as attracting the right people who can continue nurturing a culture everyone feels proud of.

This was the approach we took when delivering a recent culture transformation project with a South West NHS Foundation Trust. First, we undertook a Discovery phase to diagnose and understand what was going on within different teams and departments; their challenges, barriers and experiences. With a number key themes emerging, we then conducted deep dive interviews, listening workshops and shared an anonymous survey via our Insight platform. Throughout this deep dive phase we tapped into the “whys” – why barriers were in place, why challenges existed, and why people were feeling the way they were feeling. In these spaces, we also gave staff the opportunity to reflect and define desired behaviours, values and actions that they related to most, and how these could be achieved going forward, to collectively shape their company’s culture.

With this insight, we developed a report for the Trust board, outlining what their next steps should be to keep staff involved. This included delivering “Collabathon” roadshow events across the locality, giving staff the opportunity to have open and honest conversations about the findings with the Chair, CEO and Executives and discuss the best ways to move forward, as well as running Co-design workshops to allow staff to set their organisational values, alongside our Insight platform to hear as many voices as possible.

At this stage, the real magic happened. Staff reflected on their own personal values and, with our facilitation, were able to transform them into values and behaviours they expected in the workplace. Here we developed a set of organisational values, chosen by staff, and used them to develop a narrative that threaded together the hundreds of voices we had heard and composed the story of the Trust, as told by the people who make it what it is today. 

Throughout this entire process of co-designing a refreshed company culture, we wanted to ensure all staff who participated felt safe, valued, listened to and that this wasn’t another “tick-box” initiative that would be filed away and never seen again. With the Insight platform, we gained reach and rich data. With each interview and listening workshop, we created safe and inclusive spaces for everyone to have a voice. And with each roadshow event, voices were listened to, that of both staff and executives – together in one room, seeing each other as real people, in it together.  

Company culture is in the hands of everyone, at every level of the organisation. It is every individual’s responsibility to ensure values are embedded into every process, in every team meeting and in every interaction. And this is much easier for people to do when they feel it is something they are part of – as something they own and helped to create. This in turn will help the Trust to recruit and retain the best people, who align with their organisational values, and help foster a culture that everyone feels they belong to.

Read our full case study here.

Need support in co-designing an organisational culture that your staff feel they belong to and can thrive in? Get in touch with us at or call us on 01642 713211.

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