Building An Intentional Culture

Scaling up without losing mojo


A mission-driven startup had a flat and informal culture. The organization faced the challenges to scale up from 15 to 30 staff within a year. Staff, used to working as a peer group of high-performing experts, expressed unease about managing others or being managed.

While the scale-up was seen as a welcome opportunity to increase the scope and impact of the organization’s work, staff felt anxiety about losing the nimble, family-like, participatory, competence-driven culture everyone enjoyed.


A series of two workshops was designed. One goal was to deepen staff’s understanding of how organizations grow and which predictable growth / scale-up challenges occur.

To build confidence in everyone’s ability to steer this process successfully, we looked at how other organizations had mastered scale-ups without losing the core of their culture.

Applying the format and attitude of appreciative inquiry, staff clarified the core of their current culture and explored “what might be”.

We connected characteristics of the envisaged culture with collaborative and organizational practices that would sustain the key values and behaviors this group wanted to cultivate.


Staff built an aligned and shared understanding of what makes the place unique – and what needs preservation.

Staff had increased trust in their ability to scale-up and preserve key feature of their organization that will allow them to like it as much as the early stage organization.

An understanding was built how certain tools and processes – such as cultural manifesto, feedback, professional development – will help to be intentional about how the organization’s culture will evolve.

A document was compiled that described the key aspects of what this organization’s culture is about – and what behaviors indicate that everyone is living it.