Ride Connection’s vision for their new space

Ride Connection retreat at Albertina Kerr

ride-connection-logoRide Connection is a wonderful organization based in Portland, Oregon that provides responsive, accessible transportation options for those in need. Soon they will be moving into their own new building into a condominium surrounded by housing options for seniors and others who use their services. It’s in a renewing neighborhood where they have not been located before.

Two years ago when Christine facilitated a retreat for the board and senior staff, the organization was a lot smaller. There was no building in the works, although it has been a dream for decades. Many years of work and some fortuitous partnerships came together to make it happen. It is now under construction.

How to use the space?

The new location is in a neighborhood. The new building has a large room in the front that they can use for their training. They wondered what else they could do with all the new space. So they decided to focus this year’s board retreat on starting to generate some ideas.

Ride Connection retreat at Albertina Kerr

The challenge of limited space for the pictures

The retreat was held at Albertina Kerr, another affiliated nonprofit, that partners with the community to support people with developmental disabilities and mental health challenges to lead self determined lives and realize their full potential. They have a lovely garden room event space.  The food and service provided by volunteers was wonderful.

The challenge was the tables were small and the space was tight.

A different kind of icebreaker

You may notice each person has a piece of paper on ribbon tied around their neck. These are their introductory images that depict what each of them can offer to the team. By placing them around the neck like a badge, they were able to walk around so people on the other side of the room could see. They could refer back to them as they started working on the larger team images.

Visioning a space for Community

We asked, “what are the possibilities for using this new space in new ways?” Each person selected images to answer this, then each table discussed possibilities together. Each small group created a large image to present to the whole group.

In the afternoon, we listened to each group’s ideas. There were similarities in the values being expressed, but a whole range of ways they could put them into action. The room in the new building that was previously thought of as the training room blossomed into a whole community center.

Vision for Ride Connection new building

So many options, how do you pick?

This is a dynamic organization, they have way more ideas than time or money allow them to use. Seeing how many ideas they came up with so quickly, they realized they wanted to involve the rest of the staff and their partner organizations before they narrowed them down. After all, a community space needs the input of the community. So the conversation continues.

Now they can see common language

Some themes were used over and over by the different groups. They know those words and pictures are what they can use as they start to expand the communication with other stakeholders.



Deepening Strategic Visioning

deciding which image to use to describe vision priorities

deciding which image to use to describe vision priorities

In a recent visioning session, long-time client Valerie used the ImageSet to help bring focus to a group of nurses who were getting stuck.

The nurses were trying hard to get away from their stock answers and needed something to spark some creativity and renew focus.

Using the VisualsSpeak tools, Valerie asked the nurses to think visually by selecting one or two images to represent their priorities.  Adding the physical element of getting up and gathering around the table to look at and chose images is a fantastic way to add additional tactile elements to the exercise.

They got up, moved around, engaged with one another and really embraced the experience.  This process lead to a much more in-depth discussion about what the priorities they were focusing on meant to them individually and as a group.

This is a common response.  Research shows that when you can get individuals physically engaged in a process you up the potentiality of new and deeper outcomes.  The physical coupled with the visual helps to bring new insights and fresh ideas to established patterns.

The nurses were struggling to come up with new ideas and meaning, the ImageSet broke the struggle and enhanced the process.  The visioning session was a success for Valerie and for her clients!

If you’d like to learn more about the ImageSet >>> Click Here!


Levels of Visioning


BinocularsAs part of our monthly Tuesday Topics series of free phone calls, we sat down with Christine Martell to talk about using visuals in strategic visioning. Before getting into that piece of the interview, though, she talked about the levels of strategic visioning, and how visions differ from missions and plans.

Here’s an excerpt:

Int:What’s the outcome of a strategic visioning process?

CM: That’s a really good question because I think that one of the things that gets confusion about strategic visioning is that it gets executed, or you create these things in many different levels.

So, for example, you may be doing something with an executive team that is creating a vision for the whole future of an organization. Or you may be working with a smaller team within an organization that is really aligning with a vision/mission/values that are kinda being passed down from above.

And there’s a very different process involved when you are visioning something that doesn’t exist, versus where you’re visioning something that’s aligning with something that’s being handed to you.

Int:And tell me more about the distinction there. How would you expect something to look different in the two different kinds of categories?

CM: Well, when you’re working at creating something new, working on very big kinds of levels, the possibilities are limitless. You can create. You are usually working on a longer term, so it’s more like a 25-year vision, or if you’re doing future visioning, like the whole world or something, it could be a 200-year vision.

So I think of it as scale. It’s a scale question more than an “Are we executing it differently?” It’s the context that we’re working within, and getting very clear about what that is.

Int:I think one of the things you mentioned earlier was mission/values, and those areas in the context of vision, and identified those as very separate things. How do you distinguish a vision from those other pieces? What makes it different?

CM: Well, a vision is kind of a goal. I don’t like to use the word goal for a vision, because goal feels more limited. Vision is something that we’re striving for. It should be a stretch. A goal is usually pretty clear that you can attain it.

I think a vision has more of an ideal state. There’s almost like a struggle for perfection. Excellence is a huge part of vision. We’re trying to do something bigger, better. There’s kind of a … sort of magical…it could be magical; it can create that feeling, and often does when you’re doing a vision for a nonprofit that’s mission-driven. The vision really has a potential to get people aligned and excited.

Int:It also sounds like it tends to be a pretty strategic document, as opposed to a series of tactics or a more tactical document.

CM: Absolutely. It may have some of those tactical pieces attached to it, about how we’re going to get there or things like that. But you know, people are far more motivated toward a vision than they are toward an action plan.

Yeah, you like to kinda get your daily work done with an action plan, check it off, all those kinds of things. But as far as really driving your dedication, your engagement, your want to come to work, that kind of thing, or “I want to participate in this action” – it really needs to be juicier.

This [is a] quality that’s really hard to articulate in words, but when people start talking about it, the excitement level raises, the energy level in their voice raises, you can see these little sparks in their eye. They start having more deeper engagement. It’s like this “click” that happens. There’s a sense of energy in the room—that you know when the vision is getting clearer and when it’s really engaging people. There’s a feeling that happens.

To hear the rest of the conversation, head to our audiocasts page. There, you can listen to other conversations as well, on a variety of leadership development, team-building, and other topics.


VisualsSpeak for Strategic Visioning


BridgeDifferent members of the VisualsSpeak community use the toolset for very different purposes. This time, we look at how the tools (especially the Image Set) can be used for strategic visioning.

What VisualsSpeak Can Achieve

VisualsSpeak enables organizations, groups and individuals to create a more compelling strategic vision than is possible by simply writing a vision statement. Using images enables groups to dig deeper into the psyche of its participants to reveal the group’s goals, and align the core values needed to inspire the group to action.

Framing The Question

The framework for a strategic visioning session can be quite complex. The question you pose depends on the desired outcome of the organization, group or individual. If the goal is to inspire participants, the question could be a single-frame questions about a vision or an ideal environment. On the other hand, if the goal is to create a roadmap to get from a present state to a future one, you will want to use a multiple-frame question asking about both the present image and a future image.

Sometimes, the framework can be more complex. Depending upon what the group wants to achieve, you may want to divide the paper into different segments or frames, allowing the group to define various aspects of the issue such as who they are, the challenges they face, the results they are seeking, and their overall organizational vision. You might consider placing a river horizontally across the paper to symbolize the challenges the team faces, allowing the team to lay images on top of the river that symbolize the challenge and what’s needed to cross the river.

It’s important to discuss the process with the group leader(s) in advance of the session to determine what role they want to play during the process. Some leaders will want to maintain their leadership position and play a large role in directing the process. Others will want to relinquish their leadership role, and allow participants a greater say in the overall vision that’s developed. Aside from briefing the group leader in advance, we recommend that you refrain from setting ground rules for the group, as there is much to be learned from how the group approaches the task.

What to Observe

During a strategic visioning exercise, it’s important to observe the patterns that are exhibited by the group:

  • Do the participants approach the process independently, placing any images they choose on the wall, or do they work together, gaining consensus from all the participants before any image is placed on the wall?
  • Do participants overlap with the images already placed on the wall by others, or do they leave a lot of space between other people’s images so they remain completely visible?
  • Does the group focus solely on the challenges it faces, failing to identify ways to solve them?
  • How does the group go about discussing the images? Does it engage everyone in the discussion, or is one person appointed to tell the whole story?
  • What language does the team use to discuss the images? Do the participants describe the images literally or through the use of metaphors?

The Debrief Session

The debrief session should focus on your observations regarding how the team approached the process as well as patterns you’ve noticed regarding the content of the images and how the group placed the images on the wall. In addition to providing the team with a digital photo of the group images and the words they used to explain the images they used, you’ll also want to include a summary of the session. Meaningful patterns often emerge during the session. You will want to summarize these patterns into a document that can be useful in formulating an action plan as the group moves toward the next steps in strategic planning.


VisualsSpeak to Manage Change, Part Five


Note: This is the fifth and final segment of a multi-part series looking at how VisualsSpeak tools were used in a real-world context. View previous installment.

We get asked from time to time to give examples about how the VisualsSpeak toolset is used amongst the members of the VisualsSpeak community. So over the course of a handful of blog posts, we’re sharing one such example, with the Housing Authority of Portland.

Lessons Learned

What made this session successful?

It is never easy to deliver news to an organization that will result in major changes and an unknown future. The Housing Authority of Portland events were successful for a number of reasons:

  • The keynote helped everyone see the big picture and how HAP is not alone struggling to provide affordable housing. In fact, the agency is one of the most successful in the country.
  • The executive director talked about the successes, but also acknowledged the challenges of recent years and how hard it has been.
  • Both speakers were authentic in their passion for serving those who needed assistance with housing and other services.
  • Both speakers used personal stories to talk about the changes. This helped create the sense that everyone is all in this together.
  • Asking the question in the form of, “how can I contribute,” created a shared goal for everyone in the room.
  • Creating individual images gave everyone a voice in the conversation and a chance to be heard by a member of the management team.
  • Creating group images reinforced what the individuals said, and provided a platform to bring diverse ideas together to form a large whole.
  • Having each group tell their stories demonstrated how aligned the staff was, particularly in their passion for serving their clients.
  • The visual process was fun, generating laughter and engaging conversations which people remembered long after the event.

One of the HAP images

Final thoughts

  • Strategic change initiatives are a team building opportunity
  • Giving people a voice in their future facilitates buy-in (even if they don’t have the ultimate say)
  • Giving people a voice builds morale and trust
  • With the right set-up, change initiatives can be a celebratory event

For more information about the VisualsSpeak ImageSet, VisualsSpeak’s team-building tools, icebreakers, or other products, check out the Products menu above (on our website).


VisualsSpeak to Manage Change, Part Four


Note: This is the fourth of a five-part series looking at how VisualsSpeak tools were used in a real-world context. View Previous Installment.

We get asked from time to time to give examples about how the VisualsSpeak toolset is used amongst the members of the VisualsSpeak community. So over the course of a handful of blog posts, we’re sharing one such example, with the Housing Authority of Portland.

Time for action

After the keynote, executive director’s message and a break, each table received a VisualsSpeak ImageSet. The ImageSet is a collection of 200 tested photographs used for facilitating significant conversations to build teams and solve strategic challenges. Individuals were asked to quickly select photographs and assemble them on a piece of construction paper in response to the question, “how can I contribute to the dreams of the agency?”

People in turn described their images to the table. The energy in the room was very high, and everyone was engaged. The executive director kept saying, “I can’t believe they are talking. My staff never talks like this.”

After each person told their individual story, the table was challenged to come up with a group image. Each person had to contribute something. They could choose to use the images from the individual selections or use new ones. One person at each table was assigned to take notes for future reference.

When all the groups were finished, each table selected someone to give an overview of the group image to everyone in the room. The stories were upbeat. There were lots of creative ideas about how everyone could align to do what was best for the clients, and yet the stories were consistent across the groups. Each had awareness that there would be lots of hard work, but focused on a willingness to do whatever it would take. The theme was largely on how to serve more clients more effectively.

HAP Group using VisualsSpeak

The next morning

The other half of the staff arrived the next morning to go through the same process. Once again, the group was engaged and excited. The stories from the groups were not only consistent across the room, but they were very similar to the groups from the day before.

The following months

The executive team was very pleased at how smoothly the two meetings went. What could have been very disruptive to team morale was instead a galvanizing force for rising to the challenges that lay ahead. Each member of the executive and management team had the opportunity to hear from twenty-two staff members over the two days. They participated alongside them, and shared their stories with them.

The staff meeting experience stuck in the minds of the participants. People still talked about it many months later. The photographs from the day’s events were uploaded to the HAP intranet to further reinforce the good memories.

Patsy, who was responsible for the idea to use VisualsSpeak, had this to say.

Thanks to the VisualsSpeak Image Set, I was the hero of the day! It was imperative that this large group exercise went well. The message from our Executive Director was an important one and it all hinged on the success of this exercise. I wasn’t nervous because I knew this was the perfect tool, and we convinced members of the Executive Team to give this non-traditional tool a try—needless to say, they were not disappointed. The exercise created amazing energy throughout the room and everyone participated. Staff was able to express their contribution to the agency in a creative way and see how their work tied into “big picture” – and I got quite a few “pats on the back.”

In our final segment, we’ll debrief the lessons learned and talk about why this was such a successful intervention. Stay with us!


VisualsSpeak to Manage Change, Part Three


Note: This is the third of a five-part series looking at how VisualsSpeak tools were used in a real-world context. View previous installment.

We get asked from time to time to give examples about how the VisualsSpeak toolset is used amongst the members of the VisualsSpeak community. So over the course of a handful of blog posts, we’re sharing one such example, with the Housing Authority of Portland.

It’s about the question

On the call, there was a lot of concern about creating a forum for a giant gripe session. After all, these changes could mean more layoffs and lots more work. To avoid this, the team focused on the question to ask people to respond to. If they steered people toward a supportive stance, they could offer attendees the opportunity to get behind the effort—rather than to worry about things that might never happen.

The team settled on, “How can I contribute to the dreams of the agency?”

On the day of the meeting

The first day began with lunch at an off-site location. Attendees sat at tables with people they don’t normally work with, giving them the opportunity to have informal conversations with the executive and management staff.

The keynote speaker, Jim Stockard, had a PowerPoint presentation, but didn’t show many slides. Instead he mostly told stories. His stories centered on the history of the affordable housing movement, how the industry was constructed to serve a client base far from what it currently served. He talked about his decades on the Cambridge Housing Authority board, and shared his frustrations of trying to make a difference on the local and national level for many years.

HAP’s executive director, Steve Rudman, continued in the next segment, telling stories about how the larger industry picture had affected the work in Oregon. He talked about how hard it has become to effectively serve all the people who desperately need service. Given the level of challenge, he started offering possibilities for solving them by aligning resources with other city, state, and county agencies. At the end, he answered a few questions and sent everyone on a break.

The stage is set, and now it’s time for VisualsSpeak to kick into gear. Next in the series, we’ll see how it all happened. Tune in!
HAP Group Using VisualsSpeak


VisualsSpeak to Manage Change, Part Two


Note: This is the second of a five-part series looking at how VisualsSpeak tools were used in a real-world context. View previous installment.

We get asked from time to time to give examples about how the VisualsSpeak toolset is used amongst the members of the VisualsSpeak community. So over the course of a handful of blog posts, we’re sharing one such example, with the Housing Authority of Portland.

The Approach

All Staff Meeting

This was an important message, so a face-to-face meeting was the best choice for delivery. However, the agency needed to continue operating, so only half of the 250 staff members were able attend a meeting at one time.

The staff meetings were to be held on consecutive days. The first one would start with lunch, and go through the afternoon. The second one would be the next morning, ending with lunch. The management team would be present at both sessions. When people arrived, they would be assigned to large tables, along with a member of the management team and people they don’t usually work with.

James Stockard Jr.James Stockard Jr, a leader in affordable housing from Harvard Design School was invited to be the opening speaker. He would tell the story of the housing authorities across the nation, helping people to understand the history of challenges affecting them. The executive director would follow, announcing the intention to merge with other agencies. It was too early to know any of the specifics of what it would mean for jobs or anything else.

What comes next?

How do you engage 125 people at a meeting? How can you gather constructive feedback that you can use? The executive director issues a message on behalf of the management team, and no one knows what the implications are—including management. With managers sitting at each table, the ingredients for an explosive meeting are present.

What about having a discussion? People don’t know each other. How do you get them to talk about something with so much potential to affect them? How do you engage the segment of the staff that doesn’t like to talk or sit in meetings.

Are there alternatives?

What is the alternative to management handing down decisions from on high? A collaborative discourse with an experiential process!

Brenda Carpenter, Director of Human Resources, enlisted Patsy Nedrow, HAP’s Training Coordinator, to come up with ideas for an exercise to help people give feedback in a constructive manner. She immediately thought about using VisualsSpeak™.

Patsy explained the product and how VisualsSpeak™ had worked in an earlier program exploring respect in the workplace. She shared the overwhelmingly positive evaluation results from the sessions in their diversity sessions. Still, it seemed a little risky to the team who needed to ensure that the staff meeting would be successful. They arranged a conference call to find out more about how the VisualsSpeak method could help them achieve the results they were looking for.

In tomorrow’s installment, we’ll look at how that call went, and what pre-event planning was needed to effectively implement the VisualsSpeak tools. Until then…


VisualsSpeak to Manage Change, Part One


Note: This is the first of a five-part series looking at how VisualsSpeak tools were used in a real-world context.

We get asked from time to time to give examples about how the VisualsSpeak toolset is used amongst the members of the VisualsSpeak community. So over the course of a handful of blog posts, we’re sharing one such example, with the Housing Authority of Portland.

The Setting

The Housing Authority of Portland, Oregon (HAP) is a public corporation founded in 1941 to provide affordable housing for individuals and families challenged by income, disability, or special need. From 1991 to 2009, HAP grew from serving 8,500 households and 20,000 residents to nearly 14,000 households and more than 33,000 residents.

Despite that expansion, the agency had been dealing with years of continual budget cuts resulting in five years of layoffs, reducing the staff by 25%. Even with rising demand for services, the remaining staff had risen to the challenges over and over. But how many times can you ask for change without people getting discouraged?

Federal budget cuts combined with regulations and a growing need for housing serving those with less than 30% of the median family income forced housing authorities across the country to get very creative. Federal funding provides just over 80% of what the agencies need to keep the doors open for the housing authorities across the country.

Steve Rudman, HAP Executive DirectorSteve Rudman, HAP’s Executive Director, worked with his management team and board to form partnerships with over 100 organizations in the area, enabling HAP to become one of the most successful housing authorities in the country. But the need continues to grow while funding becomes scarcer. In a bold move, HAP began considering the opportunity to join forces with five other agencies to better serve the housing needs of Portland and surrounding counties.

Joining agencies under different jurisdictions is not an easy task. It takes strong support from staff as well as the public. If this proposal became reality, it would mean significant changes for HAP and its staff. How to present this news to staff and get them onboard?

In our next installment, we’ll share the approach HAP chose to take. Stay tuned!


Moving Vision into Action


Vision is great, but how often does it get created then put aside? Getting clear is certainly helpful and some things will occur as a result, but I want to work more consistently with my vision this year.

Creating a Mind Map

Mind maps organize information in a visual sense, so that is where I started. I have a tendency to create elaborate mind maps with hundreds of elements. I knew this wasn’t going to work, so I focused on identifying the key action areas that were the next steps in moving toward my vision. I use MindManager to create my maps.


There is still a lot here, but at least for this week, it felt like a manageable number of things to think about.

Looking for chunks to focus on

When I work on a big project, I work on everything at once. Doing something until I either finish or get stuck, then shift to the next thing. In the last few months, I’ve had  a bigger chance of getting stuck than finished, so I have been bouncing around a lot. Over a much wider range of tasks than is on this mindmap.

I am using the mind map to help select tasks to work on. I’m asking myself a couple of things:

  • How can I select an action that will further multiple areas?
  • What is easy that will clear space?.
  • What feels stuck, but has a lot of payoff if I can clear it?

Going for Maximum Effect

Looking at my map, I saw I have a lot of content to develop. The end results will be used for different purposes on both sides of the map, but there is overlap in the general topics. I have years worth of articles, posts, case studies, handouts, and designs scattered all over the place. Some embedded in newsletters, some in the blog archives, in various folders on multiple hard drives. Just thinking about this felt yucky. There was no technology structure in place to help me keep track of it. Perfect example of something that offered big payoff and could effect multiple areas. Now just to find a way to make it easy.

I decided to use Google Sites to build a simple website to store all the parts. I selected a project template and built it out in a few hours. It is easy to make it accessible to only those I chose, so I can open it to selected contractors as well as our internal company members.  Once the framework was in place, I just had to find all the pieces and put them there. But look at what I gained:

  • Created an off site back up of all the content
  • Made it easy to share files in remote locations
  • Organized content by topics that make sense for developing

I was able to get movement across the whole map. I did not have to use peak time to find, copy and paste, so I got a lot of it done during my less productive afternoon hours.

I still had time to paint!

Being more strategic in my choices, it was easier to spend time painting. I wasn’t as worried about using it to avoid other things. Besides I’ve committed to  being Creative Every Day . I’ve been doing a series of paintings about the winter holidays, now I’m doing a story about heart which is only half done. You can see them in this slideshow.

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