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Places Through Organisational Health

Is your organisation healthy? Take the test... We'll also examine the values of an Australian local government.

Edinburgh Gardens, Fitzroy North, VIC, AUS: bar on the back of a bicycle! This popular park is influenced by the locals, with targeted control by Council. This might reflect the values of The City of Yarra Council.Edinburgh Gardens, Fitzroy North, VIC, AUS: bar on the back of a bicycle! This popular park is influenced by the locals, with targeted control by Council. This might reflect the values of The City of Yarra Council.Written by: Andrew Hammonds

Thanks to: Patrick Lencioni and his book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business


If your organisation is healthy there will be clarity around these questions:

  • why do we exist?
  • how do we behave?
  • what do we do?
  • how do we succeed?
  • who must do what?

We use Lencioni's four actionable steps to enable organisations to deliver sticky places. In this article I'm focusing on the second step - with emphasis on values.

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team
  2. Create clarity
  3. Over communicate clarity
  4. Reinforce clarity

In order to create clarity for employees, Lencioni recommends leaders agree on the answers to six simple, but critical, questions. I'll also apply this idea to my own organisation - Placefocus. 

Question one: why do we exist?

The leadership team need to know, agree on and be passionate about the reason that the organisation exists. Importantly, this has to be completely idealistic. Employees in your organisation need to know that something grand and aspirational lies at the heart of what they do. Don't worry - they're also well aware that ultimately it boil's down to tactical activities and tangible outcomes.

Idea in practice: at Placefocus we challenge the status quo by thinking differently. More importantly, we aim to enable and empower people to do it themselves.

Question two: how do we behave?

Brunswick St, Fitzroy North, VIC, AUS: across from Edinburgh Gardens, this iconic building - covered in street art - challenges our values about heritage.  Brunswick St, Fitzroy North, VIC, AUS: across from Edinburgh Gardens, this iconic building - covered in street art - challenges our values about heritage.

When I ask participants in our Placemaking workshops to consider their organisational values they tend to frown and ask their colleagues "what are they again?".

The leadership team has to clarify and embrace a small and specific set of behavioural values. These should set it apart by clarifying identity and serving as a rallying point for employees.

Start by recognising the different behavioural values. Among these, core values are by far the most important and must not be confused with the others.

Core values: deeply ingrained principles that guide all actions and serve as cultural cornerstones. At Placefocus these are:

  • sharing: cooperate rather than contain;
  • innovation: new ways and small mistakes;
  • humour: if you know me you know why; 
  • learning mindset: good results begin with good questions; and
  • practical: tools and techniques along with ideas and information available any time on-line.

Aspirational values: need to succeed in the future but currently lack. At Placefocus these are:

  • collaboration (not automatic with consultants); and
  • inquiring and listening (not automatic when we are trained as experts).

Permission-to-play values: minimum behavioural and social standards. At Placefocus these are:

  • accessible; and
  • honesty.

Accidental values: positive or negative. At Placefocus these are:

  • Brisbane or Australian centric; and
  • Consultant rather than learning and listening.

The word intolerance isn't often used in a positive way. And yet when it comes to creating organisational clarity and alignment it is essential. After all, if an organisation tolerates everything, it will stand for nothing. Lencioni reminds us that coming up with strong values—and sticking to them—requires fortitude. Indeed, an organisation considering a values initiative must first come to terms with the fact that values, when properly practised, inflict pain. They make some employees feel like outcasts. They limit an organisation’s strategic and operational freedom and constrain the behaviour of its people. They leave executives open to heavy criticism for even minor violations. And they demand constant vigilance. 

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, NZ: are there accidental values projected by this design?Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, NZ: are there accidental values projected by this design?Question three: what do we do?

The answer to this question is called an organisation’s business definition. It’s critical to be clear and straight forward.

Idea in practice: because we enable and empower at Placefocus most of our products are free: articles, information, tools, techniques and ideas - available 24/7. You can also fast-track change with our manual, training, presentations, workshops and advice. 

Question four: how will we succeed?

When team leaders answer this question, essentially they are determining their strategy. Unfortunately, this is one of the most widely employed and poorly defined words. Lencioni argues that an organisation’s strategy is simply its plan for success. At Placefocus we believe that strategy is intentional decisions, informed by policy, which solve clearly articulated problems (more information in The Strategy of Placemaking). 

Lencioni suggests a detailed process to identify three strategic anchors. These inform every decision and provide the filter or lens through which decisions are evaluated to ensure consistency.

Idea in practice: after brainstorming hurdles and problems within the context of Placefocus I identified three actions:

  • seek 'in-house' opportunities with Brisbane based organisations which benefit from better places;
  • identify opportunities to influence local places; and
  • grow Placemaking within SE Queensland.

Question five: what is most important, right now?

If your organisation wants to create a sense of alignment and focus, it must have a single top priority within a given period of time. Lencioni suggests a 'Rallying Cry' or thematic goal with the following qualities.

Singular: one thing has to be most important, even if there are other goals under consideration.
Qualitative: the thematic goal should almost never be established with specific numbers attached to it.
Temporary: achievable within a clear time boundary, almost always between three and 12 months.
Shared across the leadership team: When executives agree on their top priority, they must take collective responsibility for achieving it, even if it seems that the nature of the goal falls within one or two of the executives’ regular areas of ownership.

Idea in practice: Placefocus will build strategic partnerships across different industries within SE Queensland by the end of 2016. 

Question six: who must do what?

Clarify roles and responsibilities of the leadership team so critical areas are covered.

Idea in practice

To explore Lencioni's concept of behavioural values I've selected (completely at random) the following corporate values (in "inverted commas") of an Australian local government:

  1. "Consistency and Fairness": these would be Permission to Play values. They don't set it apart from other council's (or most companies for that matter) by clarifying identity and serving as a rallying point for employees.
  2. "Results": what sort of results? Could be a Core value if there is a strong history of delivering outcomes for the community. Probably a Permission to Play value - see 1 above
  3. "Integrity and Honesty": more Permission to Play values - see 1 above. 
  4. "Teamwork and Staff Development": most Council staff I talk to bemoan the state of professional development. If you combine this with the constraints to teamwork (including organisational silos) I suggest that this value is Aspirational. 
  5. "Inclusiveness and Fair Representation": community engagement is challenging for most council's - let alone inclusiveness.  Another Aspirational value. 
  6. "Continuous Improvement and Innovation": innovation is challenging for the private sector, let along large government concerned about risk, the vocal minority, procedures and standards.  Another Aspirational value. 
  7. "Accountability": standard for council and other organisations. Another Permission to Play value - see 1 above.
  8. "Leadership": much espoused, but delivery can be challenging. Another Permission to Play value - see 1 above or could even be Aspirational.

It would be revealing for the staff at this council to consider Accidental values - positive or negative. 

Are the organisations which influence the quality of your places healthy? Is there clarity about values (accidental, aspirational & core)? 


We generate discussion in our training courses on Placemaking and urban design. While there are common qualities to the places we like, our own views matter. I started this blog to continue this discussion on-line. The Comments section at the bottom of each article provides the opportunity, so don't be bashful. Particularly if you disagree!

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Written: 5 May, 2016

Additional Information

Introduction to Placemaking and Urban DesignWhat type of Placemaking is best for your situation?

Placefocus Articles

Organisational Placemaking - Innovation and ImprovementOrganisational Placemaking - Transition and Change;  Organisational Placemaking - Culture & StructureThe business of placeThe Strategy of Placemaking;  Placemaking - techniques, tools and ideasCreative Placemaking - ideas and examplesUrban Design tools, tips and techniques


With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo by thinking differently. More importantly, we aim to enable and empower people to do it themselves.

That's why most of our products are free - articlesinformationtoolstechniques and ideas - available 24/7.

You can also fast-track change with our manualtrainingpresentationsworkshops and advice.

Seeking transformation?

Call Andrew Hammonds on (+617) 3102 1976 or email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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