Why We Work: Creating Organizational Values

No matter your type of organization, coming up with a list of values that drive your team creates specific criteria by which you can judge all of your agency’s decisions.

Not only is "who we are" list helpful for new employees or volunteers, it’s also a great team-building exercise to get everyone on the same page about who you are and what motivates you!

For our session here at InReach Solutions, I tweaked the 3-12-3 brainstorming method created by the super-gifted James Macanufo. It’s a simple way to frame your brainstorming for efficiency—and the whole process only takes around 20 minutes.

How to Create a Values List for your Organization

What You'll Need:

  • Colored Post-It Notes (ideally one color per person)
  • A whiteboard or large sheet of butcher paper
  • Pens/markers
  • 3-10 participants who know your organization well
  • Copious amounts of coffee (optional)

1. Individual Brainstorming (3 minutes)

For the first three minutes, everyone in the room should take a stack of Post-It Notes and brainstorm individual values they see or want for your organization. These can be people-centric values (like “approachable” or “kind”) or service-centric values (like “efficient” or “user-friendly”). In three minutes, most people should be able to come up with about 8-12 separate ideas.

Pro Tip: Include antonyms in your values list. These are things you definitely DON’T want associated with your organization, though the opposites might not fit well into your brand. For example, a fast food chain probably wouldn’t list “healthy” as one of the central values of their company, but they definitely don’t want “fattening” to be an associated value. In this instance, you could write “fattening” with a slash through it to help clarify the general direction you’re moving toward.

2. Making Connections (about 12 minutes)

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After everyone has a chance to brainstorm individually, go around the room one-by-one and present your Post-Its up on a whiteboard or sheet of butcher paper. (For larger groups, you can even break this down further by splitting into trios or pairs.)

Simply announce each word, slap it on the board, and then let the next person come up once you're finished. As you go around, you’ll notice patterns starting to emerge—some people may have the same word written down, or similar concepts may start to congeal.

Place related Post-Its next to each other on the board so that you start to form separate bubbles. For example, “compassionate”, “caring”, and “warm” could all be placed next to each other, while “structured”, “simple”, and “clear” would be placed in another bubble.

This stage almost always requires a bit of discussion, especially as you get toward the end of your group—does this word belong with this group more, or that group? This is great! You’re already working to define and crystalize your values at this point, which will come in handy for step 3.

Pro Tip: Avoid offering full explanations of every value you write down. Some words will have different meanings for different people, so by leaving room for interpretation, you’ll get a better idea of how the word is viewed by the group in the final step of the process.

3. Crystalizing Concepts (about 3 minutes each)


Now that you’ve got your bubbles formed, draw a circle around each one. (3-5 is a pretty typical number for the amount of bubbles you should have on your board). Here comes the tricky part: identifying one word that encapsulates all the different values listed inside each bubble. Some will be easier than others—while we were working on ours, “authentic” emerged pretty quickly, whereas “confident” took awhile to get to. 

It’s important to try and keep this part of the process snappy—if you’re spending more than three minutes on a bubble, it likely means that you either need to split it in half, or perhaps it’s not something that you actually want to include in your organization’s list of core values.

Optional: Take it Further with Images

If you're on a roll and want to think about how your values translate visually, take 10 minutes to go through old magazines as a group and cut out pictures that represent your determined values. This can be a great way to solidify your ideas, and can even help when it comes to choosing images for marketing materials later on.


By the end of the session, your team will have settled on a few choice words that you can use to steer your agency. Make a poster and put them up on the wall! Share them with your volunteer base, and make sure any employees who weren’t a part of the session get a copy as well. You can use these values to measure all sorts of things your agency does on a regular basis:

  • Client communications
  • Organizational strategy
  • Application processes
  • Etc.

The more you analyze your agency’s day-to-day activities in light of your values, the more you’ll be able to see where you’re living up to your goals and where you’re falling short. Determining organizational values is like designing a road map to help you reach your goals with intentionality. Let us know how it works for you!