How our Theory of Change Came to Be … and Why the Pressure Matrix is Different

Over the last year, the team at BarometerXP has been refining a core philosophy around the concept of pressure..

In science, barometers are harbingers of weather. By measuring the pressure in the atmosphere, the gauge can predict sunny and stormy conditions before they happen , and alert people to when they can expect some turbulence.

At Barometer XP we aim to do the same for teams and culture. Games are excellent barometers for the interpersonal dynamics: play can simulate work environments where existing relationships and dynamics and systems are on full display. By observing how different dynamics play out (no pun intended) over the course of a game, the group can observe where the team is experiencing smooth sailing and where a storm might be brewing.

When the game session is led by an experienced facilitator, a single play session can yield hundreds, if not thousands, of topics for further reflection and insights. And those insights lead to real, sustainable change..

We wanted to create a framework to talk about team pressures, that would categorize the different kinds of team dynamics that make up team culture.

Here’s how we did it.

The Pressure Matrix

We researched best practices in organizational development and merged it with the field of mental health. As you might expect, the result evolved into a model of organizational health.

By crossing the why, what, and how of work with the feeling, thinking, and acting of any given moment, we found a 3x3 matrix that scaffolds our view of workplace pressure. In future posts, we’ll dive into each of the 9 pressure points.

Before we go any further, let us emphasize that this is one of many lenses teams can look through for solutions. Workplaces are complex ecosystems with more than two key variables.

However, mental health, like play, is undervalued, especially in the workplace. Specifically, sharing how we feel at work is tricky to navigate. It blends personal and professional in a way that many are still uncomfortable with. Plus, how we think and act are more traditional skills in the workplace. But as work filtered into our private spaces during the pandemic, we watched as unaddressed emotional tensions hit an acute breaking point.

Ultimately, there weren’t a lot of good spaces to explore this kind of discomfort together. To introduce a different nature metaphor, geologic plates shift and build pressure over time. If there’s no way to diffuse that pressure, a major earthquake is inevitable. Fun fact: California has dozens of earthquakes daily. Don’t believe it? The key is that they’re small and less noticeable. If the pressure built up instead, we would likely see a doomsday scenario from the movies.

Teams are in constant movement. From onboarding new clients and talent to managing projects and tools, change affects people. So we built a short, point-in-time assessment tool that measures how pressure shifts across a workforce. It centers the results around our Pressure Matrix, which organizes our ever-expanding catalogue of games, facilitations guides, and play-based resources.

We encourage people to use either version of the tool – the online survey or physical card deck – to see if this pressure lens can help you activate play as a team solution.