Organisational Zoo event

Organisational Zoo – August 2019 Event Review

By Meredith Crowe


On Wednesday, 28th August, our ODA community gathered for our last winter event of 2019. Laurel Sutton introduced us to Organisational Zoo; a powerful metaphor for understanding organisations, relationships and behaviours. Laurel is an accredited Organisational Zoo Ambassador, the owner of Creative Cognition and collaborative partner of Complexability.


Laurel began with a premise we could all relate to, Modern Organisations are like Zoos. She introduced us to some of the zoo animals through a deck of cards that outlined the attributes and preferences of each animal. We were asked to think about our own preferences for forming a group at a workshop, and what we appreciated in the behaviour of others in a learning environment. When we compared table to table, there were some similarities, but also some strong differences.


Would we include a strong leader in our workshop group? Would they inspire others? Or would it cause everyone else to be passive and think twice before sharing their ideas in front of this leader? Or, could it cause everyone else to even be a bit lazy if they knew the leader was a firm pair of hands on the wheel?


Would we include an enthusiastic, socially focussed high performer? Would the group respond by feeding off this person’s energy and enjoy themselves? Or would group members feel this person wasn’t taking the workshop seriously and be frustrated by their jokes and frivolity?


The zoo animals are constructed archetypes which let them describe everybody, but nobody. The animal names gave the cards enough character to paint a picture of a sentient and responsive contributor, but it was too fuzzy around the edges to prompt thinking about a specific person we knew about ‘being’ one of the animals. It made it easy to talk about behaviour in a completely non-personal way. We unpacked the possibilities of certain situations based on strong behaviours in certain combinations. The metaphor very quickly enabled us to zero into a discussion about people and impact.


The animal metaphor also made it easy to remember the cards, and we were surprised how quickly we could recall the general shape of all 25 animals.


Laurel described a number of situations she has used the Organisational Zoo cards including as a coaching tool, to accompany a task-driven project plan as a way of thinking about behavioural needs, and as a team-building and effectiveness tool. Laurel now keeps a deck in her handbag just in case! Thanks for a terrific evening, Laurel!


PS: The Organisational Zoo website has a number of references, products, and activities to try.