What Is Culture Kitchen?

Imagine a room filled with 40 national guard officers. They are not only experienced leaders in the military, but these men and women also serve as managers, directors, and vice presidents. They serve one weekend a month, and two weeks a year to protect our country.

They are curious, solution-oriented, and not afraid to take on new challenges. What could possibly draw them to a workshop on team building?

The opportunity to learn something new, and learn it in a new way.

How It Works

Culture Kitchen is a workshop that uses a special type of video game. The game is a “cooperative video game” designed to create cooperation and collaboration instead of competition. The video game lets leaders practice their teamwork skills. Working with a facilitator, the participants rotate between three phases. They learn a concept, practice the concept in the game, then reflect on how their experience relates to challenges in their professional lives.

  • Phase 1: Concept.
  • Phase 2: Practice.
  • Phase 3: Reflect.

What Culture Kitchen Teaches

Most modern leaders recognize the need to modify how to motivate teams. As New York Times best-selling author Dan Pink wrote in his book Drive1, there is a gap between what science knows and what businesses (and sometimes the military) practice. As the American economy has moved from a muscle economy, into a knowledge economy, workers are responding to different motivational methods than in past decades. Incentives like the proverbial carrot and stick, are not as effective with knowledge workers as they were with factory workers 50 years ago.

Culture Kitchen teaches leaders how to create an environment where people motivate themselves. Culture Kitchen is an applied soft skills workshop. The experience helps leaders understand:

1.) How emotions interfere with performance.

2.) Why do emotions interfere with performance.

3.) What your employees can do about it.

The workshop is more than an academic discussion, it is a hands-on learning environment. The video game helps leaders experience the emotions created by a sense of urgency colored by uncertainty. They then work with tools to get a handle on these feelings and improve performance during the workshop, despite the adverse emotions.

Practice handling Uncertainty and Urgency

The design of the video game allows the participants to move through cycles of competence and stress in a controlled way. They play challenging video game levels until they are comfortable. Each successive level of the game then exposes them to carefully selected changes that challenge the players confidence. They experience uncertainty and urgency in repeating cycles and learn how to navigate the emotions brought up by those stressors.

The workshop creates contrasting experiences for the participants. This contrast makes the psychological forces more visible. Participants cycle from discomfort, to comfort, to mastery, and back to discomfort. In a few short minutes, they begin to see how urgency and uncertainty can derail their performance by affecting their emotions and mindset.

Why a video game?

We use a video game to level the playing field and create more inclusion. The game needs no specific skills, nor physical prowess for a player to contribute. The controls are simple, move, pick up/put down, chop. That is it. Two buttons and a move stick. Unlike most modern video games, the controls do not make the game complicated. What is more, any player can do any task, but no player can do every task. People will have to work together to hit their objectives.

Cooperation makes the game challenging. Because there are no right answers, no best way to play, players are encouraged to debate. This open-ended design gives the teams many good choices. Choices prompt conversations. The players negotiate how to work together.

Teams must choose how to work together. This kind problem solving is an
excellent approximation of the types of creative and cognitive work most
professionals deal with within matrix and flat organizations. Teams learn how to
shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. They move from rigid “we’ve
always done it this way” thinking to explore what it means to be adaptable
and resilient.

Culture Kitchen dives into the applied psychology and the associated techniques needed to make it easier for teams to learn together. The workshop gives leaders the tools, and the experience of using the tools, to cultivate resilience in their own teams.


Culture Kitchen is designed to let leaders learn about and practice creating
psychological safety. People lead better when they are proficient in
teamwork skills. These skills can be hard to build as normal business cycles
take months or years to complete. These long cycles only give your
employees a few repetitions a year. The power of the video game is that
project cycles happen in minutes. Participants gain many more
opportunities to practice working and communicating together. Professional
golfers hit hundreds (sometimes thousands) of golf balls before they step
into the tee box when it is game day. Culture Kitchen provides a similar
opportunity for the professional development of leaders.