Guest post from Jeremy Dean, creator of The Emotional Culture Deck (ECD)

A 4-minute READ and 12-minute WATCH (additional Q&A answered on video)

Whenever I do a webinar there are always fabulous unanswered questions left over at the end of our time together. In this post Jeremy Dean, my guest for Putting the F in Culture, generously answers some of these questions in order to build on the wisdom and inspiration he shared live.



Q1 – What are the most common applications for the ECD? 

There are 12 different ways to use the game to help solve 12 different types of workplaces challenges. Learn more HERE.

The three most common applications are:

  1. leadership development and leadership coaching, either 1:2:1 or as a leadership group
  2. helping a team or organisation define their desired culture – the game is particularly powerful when forming new teams or through team mergers; and
  3. using the game to support change leadership.

 Q2 – How do you handle people oversharing in this kind of approach? 

I haven’t experienced oversharing in this approach in my five years of using the game with teams. Before using this game, the most significant barrier I found was getting people to share more!

But I don’t think ‘oversharing’ is negative. Usually, it’s seen as a negative by leaders because of an unarticulated fear they have about what might happen if they find out their people are experiencing ‘negative emotions’ because they then have a responsibility to help.

I’ve also found many leaders fear these conversations because they are uncomfortable themselves with expressing how they feel.

Finally, leaders may fear oversharing because it means they will find themselves faced with uncomfortable conversations. But growth only comes through the discomfort. So if there is ‘oversharing’, from my perspective that’s a sign of vulnerability in the team. And I don’t believe that a group can be too vulnerable with each other.

Q3 – Emotions are relevant and ‘OK’ during this period – how do we make it more than OK as we find a ‘new normal’? 

First, we need to change the story we tell ourselves and each other: that emotions are not normal, we shouldn’t express them at work, or that they’re OK now but not at any other time. The simple fact is that emotions are present in every moment and within every team and every organisation. But they are either embraced or suppressed by leaders. Sigal Barsade says “every organisation has an emotional culture – even if it’s a culture of suppression.” This sums it up perfectly.

So how do we make it more OK to have these conversations?

  1. Normalise talking about emotion at work. This means the leaders need to go first. If the leaders of teams are expressing how they feel, embracing emotions and not suppressing how they feel, then others will follow. When these discussions are embraced, the stigma slowly dissipates and it becomes part of ‘how we roll’.
  2. Give people the labels and language. I’ve found that almost everyone wants to talk about  how they feel but they just don’t know how to do it. They don’t have the labels or the breadth of vocabulary to share in a meaningful way.
  3. Create a consistent team ritual that nudges people to express and share how they feel.

 Q4 – Are there some cards that are treated as “safer” to bring to the group to start? 

I’ve not found any particular cards are safer to bring to groups. It’s common for leaders to say that they don’t want to discuss or explore the unpleasant feelings cards because they worry it will ‘open wounds’. But we have to “name it to tame it.” Only once we can accurately label and articulate the unpleasant (and pleasant emotions) at a personal and team level can we then work together to manage and cope with what we’re experiencing. My advice to all teams is not to underestimate your team’s ability to label their unpleasant emotions and then work together to find a way to manage, cope with and navigate through these feelings together. Because, as Mark Brackett says, “you can spend a reasonable amount of time attending to fears, feelings and emotions, or an unreasonable amount of time dealing with problematic behaviours.”

Q5 – Are there some emotions best expressed/explored outside of work? How do you navigate these as a leader? 

My belief is we need to create an environment where our people can bring their full selves to work – which simply means they don’t have to wear a metaphorical mask when they come to work or pretend to be someone else to fit in. To create this environment, you need to understand your people’s full selves – who they are ‘outside’ work, what drives them, what motivates them, and how they feel on a day-to-day basis – and if any triggers are work- or home-related. Because if they are home-related, those feelings will be impacting how they show up and perform at work. And if the emotions are triggered by work, they will also be impacting performance. Either way, how someone feels impacts their work, both positively and negatively, so I believe it’s our duty as leaders to help people articulate how they feel (and don’t feel) in order to improve the way we work.

ADDITIONAL Q&A answered on video: (a 12 minute watch)

  • When introducing emotion-centred leadership, how do you start the conversation?
  • Have you found companies that find this harder to engage with than others?
  • How do you support those who are uncomfortable having emotion-centred conversations in a group-based context?
  • I’ve been an advocate of this human behaviour for two decades – what’s the difference now?
  • Are teams selecting some emotions more than others?
  • What are the uses and rhythms of the ECD?
  • How is the ECD working with remote teams?

Jeremy Dean:

Jeremy is the founder of riders&elephants, a Wellington-based company designing simple, human games to help leaders reimagine the way people connect and grow. A lot of this involves using beautifully simple tools that unlock emotion-led communication about workplace culture and customer experiences. He believes that “F-word conversations” about how people truly feel in their workplaces are the key to helping people thrive, lift the culture of teams, and increase overall performance.

In 2018, after four years of development, riders&elephants successfully launched The Emotional Culture Deck, their first card-based game. The ECD is used in 36 countries by over 30,000 people in organisations including IBM, Netflix, IAG, Xero, Starbucks, Westpac, Air New Zealand, Panasonic, Daimler, and New Zealand Rugby. In 2019, the company launched a new game called The Customer Experience Deck and they’re currently designing The Wellbeing Deck.

In a previous life, Jeremy was a professional cricketer but his dream career came to a screeching halt in 2009. He struggles daily with anxiety and imposter syndrome and has also been part of highly dysfunctional cultures and teams. Fortunately, he ‘eats his own cooking’ and is the self-proclaimed biggest user of his company’s games, developing ways to manage and now share his experiences in order to help others. 

Enjoyed this post and what to learn more?

  • WATCH the webinar playback of Putting the F in Culture HERE.
  • VISIT Jeremy’s website to learn more about the Emotional Culture Deck and how it could help your organisation put emotion at the centre of culture.
  • JOIN Fully Human to find out about future events and receive our regular update about all things human-centred in leadership – sign up HERE.