Building Great Teams One Image at a Time

What do pinterest, tumbler and facebook have in common with VisualsSpeak?

Images.  Visuals.  Pictures.

Over the last year, we’ve seen the popularity of visuals rise.  From Pinterest to infographics, images are everywhere.

The reason is simple.  Images are highly effective.

That’s what makes VisualsSpeak tools so powerful.

The ability to “paint a thousand words” in one image is one reason the human brain loves pictures.

One picture can convey years of meaning and memory.  When used in team-building efforts, images can be a powerful team-building tool.

Why Image Decks are So Powerful

Of course the primary reason the VisualsSpeak image decks are so powerful is that they are made up of images.  But, the decks aren’t just piles of images, the images themselves have been tested and vetted to make sure they get results.

In a team-building setting, images can cross all sorts of interpersonal communication boundaries between members of a group as well as shine light on all of the variations among group members.  But the images can also shed light on the similarities among a diversified group of team members.  Unveiling these often unnoticed similarities can create a more powerful group dynamic, creating a much healthier and more productive team.

Don’t Just Take Our Word For It

Here’s Lori Silverman’s story:

Lori Silverman is a builder. As a key leader of Portland State University’s Professional Development Center, Lori helps the university build new degree and certificate programs. And that means bringing teams, boards, and committees together. A lot.

So when it was time to put a new advisory panel together and set up a first meeting? Well, we’ll just let Lori tell you herself, in her own words:

“It was my first meeting with my advisory panel and on it’s way to a humdrum bother of a meeting for everyone until I decided to use VisualsSpeak. My biggest anxiety was giving up a full 90 minutes of a two hour meeting just to introduce

“In just 90 minutes I have the richest understanding of my new advisory panel’s ability to contribute, special attributes, natural leadership and group tendencies, willingness levels, commitment level, level of understanding of the program and most interesting to me – they have a genuine curiosity about each other – and a desire to work together in the future. Sometimes I have worked for months to glean that kind of knowledge on a team – and almost never got it.

“I have to admit that biting the bullet and committing 90 minutes of their first meeting to playing with images was risky – I didn’t know them well, and I felt like and they made me feel like I was asking a lot of them just to be there – but WOW. One of them had told me in advance that he would not be able to stay for the entire meeting – so when the meeting finished and I asked why he stayed – he said that he guessed it was a barometer for his interest in the meeting!

“I couldn’t have done that with my old agendas’ ‘Statement of Purpose, New Business, Yawn, yawn.’ Thanks to the team building tool, I think we have eliminated so much of the hidden agenda, anxiety, waste of time kinds of feelings on behalf of the group.”

You can learn more about the Team-Building tools here >>  Building Great Teams

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Stop whining and see alternatives

Everyday we hear stories about how stressed our customers organizations are. Continuous change, resource limitations, and uncertainty are the themes that are constant companions.

What is whining all about?

One concern is that if you let people talk, all they will do is whine.  There are other ways to look at it.  Whining happens when people don’t know what else to do. They can’t make sense of what is going on around them. It’s usually because they don’t understand. {Ok, there are perpetual habitual whiners, but they aren’t who we are talking about here.}

What is really going on?

When people are whining, they are telling you a stuck story. They are seeing from their unique viewpoint, and having trouble seeing alternatives. Using visuals can access a different part of the brain, and allow people to see other ways of thinking about a situation.

There are always multiple ways of looking at things. It is this normal human fact– seeing from our own perspective– that creates stress in groups. It’s also our greatest opportunity for creating our best collective work.

How does this work?

Here’s an example of how our customer, Jean Bonifas did it.

I used four Visual Icebreaker sets in a team building workshop for a health insurance management team.  The CEO requested that everyone share their photos choices to answer “Who are you?” and “What do you bring to the team” with the entire group (15).  This exchange deepened the recognition of  each team member’s value rather than just the folks within their individual small groups.  This group is very stressed by burgeoning growth, new responsibilities and constantly shifting policies.  The process of selecting a photo reconnected them as individuals working to build an effective and successful organization rather than just putting out fires.

Selecting an image that resonated with the team had people operating from the metaphoric right side of the brain.  Then as each person verbalized what it was about that image that expressed who they are, they shared more than words.  Their sharing with others on the team went beyond verbal content (left brain) and seemed to expand the team’s understanding of each person within an intuitive context (right brain).  Very powerful!

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Visual Icebreaker: Today's Hope for the Meeting

Purpose:

This icebreaker gets people to talk about what they want out of the session, and to add their concerns
 to the process. They can also weigh everyone’s views and hopefully accommodate these other opinions.

Choose a prompt.

This may seem like a quick and obvious step, but actually, it is by far the most important. A well-formed and well-chosen prompt will reveal insights; a poorly-selected one will fizzle. Suggestions:

  • Choose an image that reflects something you hope is present in the meeting today.
  • Choose an image that reflects something you hope is present in the group today.

Share the prompt with participants

State the prompt and give participants 30 seconds to select an image. Although this often feels (to both facilitator and participants) like a short time, that duration is critical. Participants will select images more viscerally and instinctively, which (perhaps counter-intuitively) sparks a greater connection to the image chosen.

Share the story of the image

Participants share about their response with the larger group.

Debrief.

There are a set of known, time-tested debriefing questions that work effectively with the Core Icebreaker process. Those are listed below. Feel free to embellish this list with other effective questions appropriate to your meeting, training, or facilitation.
• What was the process like for you?
• What did you notice?
• Was there anything interesting or surprising?
• Do you have any new insights?
• Did you notice any patterns or trends?
• Does anyone want to add anything else?


Included in our Visual Icebreaker Kit, the facilitator guide contains dozens of icebreakers covering a variety of outcomes — from building trust to conducting a mini-assessment.

Of course, these activities are designed to be used with the icebreaker images, but could be used reasonably well with the images in the Developing Great Leaders or Building Great Teams toolsets as well.

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Visual Icebreaker: Teaming Up

Purpose:

This exercise gets people engaged in a conversation about effective teams and not-so-effective ones. It will give you information on what your participants want to better team. It is designed to be done in small groups of 3-5 people.

Choose a prompt.

This may seem like a quick and obvious step, but actually, it is by far the most important. A well-formed and well-chosen prompt will reveal insights; a poorly-selected one will fizzle. Suggestions:

  • Find five images that mean something about teamwork.
  • Find five images that mean something about this group.
  • Find five images that mean something about effective teams.

Share the prompt with participants

State the prompt and give the group 1 minute to select their images. Although this often feels (to both facilitator and participants) like a short time, that duration is critical. Participants will select images more viscerally and instinctively, which (perhaps counter-intuitively) sparks a greater connection to the image chosen.

Share the story of the images

Emphasize that you are asking people to drill down into their statements about teams or the group. Get them to list specifics. Have each group share about their responses with the larger group.

Other things that may raise interesting discussion points:

  • How the group negotiates the selection of images
  • How the small groups choose to report back.
  • What happens if two small groups want to use the same picture.

Debrief.

There are a set of known, time-tested debriefing questions that work effectively with the Core Icebreaker process. Those are listed below. Feel free to embellish this list with other effective questions appropriate to your meeting, training, or facilitation.

  • What was the process like for you?
  • What did you notice?
  • Was there anything interesting or surprising?
  • Do you have any new insights?
  • Did you notice any patterns or trends?
  • Does anyone want to add anything else?

Included in our Visual Icebreaker Kit, the facilitator guide contains dozens of icebreakers covering a variety of outcomes — from building trust to conducting a mini-assessment.

Of course, these activities are designed to be used with the icebreaker images, but could be used reasonably well with the images in the Developing Great Leaders or Building Great Teams toolsets as well.

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Visual Wrap-up: Today's Take

wrap up activity for meetingPurpose

This exercise gives participants a chance to talk about their perceptions and feelings about the meeting/process.

Choose a prompt.

This may seem like a quick and obvious step, but actually, it is by far the most important. A well-formed and well-chosen prompt will reveal insights; a poorly-selected one will fizzle. Suggestions:

  • Pick a photo that catches your eye related to today’s topic.
  •  Pick a photo that relates a feeling you have about today’s meeting.

Share the prompt with participants

State the prompt and give participants 30 seconds to select an image. Although this often feels (to both facilitator and participants) like a short time, that duration is critical. Participants will select images more viscerally and instinctively, which (perhaps counter-intuitively) sparks a greater connection to the image chosen.

Share the story of the image

Participants share about their response with the larger group.

Debrief.

There are a set of known, time-tested debriefing questions that work effectively with the Core Icebreaker process. Those are listed below. Feel free to embellish this list with other effective questions appropriate to your meeting, training, or facilitation.
• What was the process like for you?
• What did you notice?
• Was there anything interesting or surprising?
• Do you have any new insights?
• Did you notice any patterns or trends?
• Does anyone want to add anything else?


Included in our Visual Icebreaker Kit, the facilitator guide contains dozens of icebreakers covering a variety of outcomes — from building trust to conducting a mini-assessment.

Of course, these activities are designed to be used with the icebreaker images, but could be used reasonably well with the images in the Developing Great Leaders or Building Great Teams toolsets as well.

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Visual Icebreaker: Can I trust you?

Purpose:

This icebreaker provides an opportunity to start the process of finding out what trust means to the group.

Choose a prompt.

This may seem like a quick and obvious step, but actually, it is by far the most important. A well-formed and well-chosen prompt will reveal insights; a poorly-selected one will fizzle. Suggestions:

  • What is trust?
  • What does trust look like?

Share the prompt with participants

State the prompt and give participants 30 seconds to select an image. Although this often feels (to both facilitator and participants) like a short time, that duration is critical. Participants will select images more viscerally and instinctively, which (perhaps counter-intuitively) sparks a greater connection to the image chosen.

Share the story of the image

Participants share about their response with the larger group.

Debrief.

There are a set of known, time-tested debriefing questions that work effectively with the Core Icebreaker process. Those are listed below. Feel free to embellish this list with other effective questions appropriate to your meeting, training, or facilitation.
• What was the process like for you?
• What did you notice?
• Was there anything interesting or surprising?
• Do you have any new insights?
• Did you notice any patterns or trends?
• Does anyone want to add anything else?


Included in our Visual Icebreaker Kit, the facilitator guide contains dozens of icebreakers covering a variety of outcomes — from building trust to conducting a mini-assessment.

Of course, these activities are designed to be used with the icebreaker images, but could be used reasonably well with the images in the Developing Great Leaders or Building Great Teams toolsets as well.

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The Mensch Factor

mensch

A 1941 Mensch exampleAh, if one could be a leader by just experiencing goodness and light. If every team member were Mary Poppins and every CEO were Dumbledore. If a lively happy tune were played every time the leader entered a room.

Well, that last one might get old pretty fast. Although the President seems to enjoy it (Bill Clinton once said it was the hardest thing to get used to after being president — he kept waiting for the music to start when he’d get someplace!).

Of course, none of these things are reality. In fact, often the measure of a good leader is more what s/he does when times are difficult than when times are good and the livin’ is easy.

Enter the Mensch

Mensch is a Yiddish word that, loosely, translates to a “real man” or a “stand-up guy.” But I mean it in a gender-neutral sense. A leader who scores high on the mensch factor is one who is upfront, honest about bad news or negative tidings, and who is direct. That’s not an easy skill to acquire, and it’s easy to slip up.

The most common way that leaders lose mensch points is through avoidance. And technology helps with this quite a bit. Have a bit of bad news? Sure, you probably should tell someone face-to-face, but why not just send an e-mail? After all, that means there’s a record of it, and the recipient can always refer back to it. Or maybe, a bit sneakier, call the person after hours and hope to leave a voice mail message. Either way, it’s the same thing: avoiding the issue.

Another method of building up a mensch deficit is through mealymouthing. By this, I mean sugar-coating something to the point that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. So if a leader is trying to address a performance problem, the message “Your work isn’t working because of X, Y, and Z” becomes “This approach may not be the best,” which then becomes “As you work, you might think about some other ways, too” which then becomes “Be sure to be thoughtful about your approach.” By the time you complete the coating, it’s all sugar and no content.

The Band-Aid Theory

Sometimes, it’s like the best way to get a Band-Aid removed: you just have to rip it off. Yes, it may sting for a few moments, but then it’s done and you can move on. It’s just the same thing with menschy leaders. They know that the news or feedback or content is important and that people need to know. So they deliver the information. That’s just how it’s done. And then it’s done.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean being rude, or being abusive. Those are on the other end of the spectrum, and also lose you points on the mensch factor. People who are accused of being too abrasive or rude will sometimes justify their actions by saying they “just give it to ’em straight with no sugar-coating,” but that’s not really true. Those folks are into shock therapy, and that’s rarely the right approach.

Instead — and it’s a really novel concept — approach the conversation on a person-to-person basis. Be firm, be direct, but be kind. Those aren’t mutually exclusive characteristics.

And they’re just what you need to be a real mensch of a leader.

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Mini-Assessment Icebreaker: Gooooooooalllllllll!

goal

Goal!Included in our Visual Icebreaker Kit, the facilitator guide contains dozens of icebreakers covering a variety of outcomes — from building trust to conducting a mini-assessment.

Of course, these activities are designed to be used with the icebreaker images, but could be used reasonably well with the images in the Developing Great Leaders or Building Great Teams toolsets as well. Here’s a sample icebreaker that helps to conduct a mini-assessment:

Purpose: This Core Icebreaker gives some indications of what people’s goals are. What are they lacking or needing to accomplish these goals? VisualsSpeak Core Icebreaker processes are described in much more detail in the Visual Icebreaker Kit Facilitation Guide.

Process:

  • Put images in a place accessible to all participants.
  • State the prompt.
  • Give participants 30 seconds to select an image.
  • Participants share about their response with the group.
  • Debrief.

Prompt: Choose an image that represents something you hope to accomplish here today.

Variant: Choose an image that represents something you home to accomplish as part of the group.

Debrief:

  • What was the process like for you?
  • What did you notice?
  • Was there anything interesting or surprising?
  • Do you have any new insights?
  • Did you notice any patterns or trends?
  • Does anyone want to add anything else?
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Are Fairness and Power Mutually Exclusive?

elbow

In the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, a team of folks wrote a piece about Why Fair Bosses Fall Behind. It is, for the most part, an interesting and well-sourced read.

In brief, the authors’ position is that two otherwise equivalent managers will be seen differently if one is “demanding and occasionally abrasive” and the other is respectful. The latter may be more admired (especially by members of her team), but the former will be seen as more powerful — and will be more likely to get picked for a top spot.

Of course, in the anecdotal example that the authors cite (they also incorporate some more scientifically-conducted experimental data), the end result is no good: the more “powerful” person gets promoted to the top spot, a bunch of promising executives that were mentees of the respectful manager left, and the powerful big boss gets forced out by the company’s board a few years later.

Throwing an Elbow on National TV

It may be an apocryphal story, but the legend is that basketball player Bill Russell — an amazing talent on the court — was having lots of trouble in the paint because he didn’t want to throw an elbow. He was, in our analogy, the respectful manager. So the team’s owner, Red Auerbach, sat him down and told him to throw the elbow — just once — on national TV.

So that’s what Russell did. And it was an elbow seen around the world — Russell got left alone after that. It only took one.

In the HBR article, one of the experiments cited showed that participants’ opinions about who was more powerful, the respectful or the abrasive, were shaped by only a single incident. They saw one being respectful, the other being abrasive, then “worked for them” each displaying respectful behaviors. Yet the one-time abrasive manager was rated higher.

Impressions Count

So perhaps the moral of the story is that it’s useful to have some balance — an occasional edge along with a more rational and supportive center. Or maybe it’s that a little theater can be helpful when leading teams.

Either way, consider the impression you leave on others around you. Working toward the longer-term success of being respectful and kind may be more difficult than surrendering to a baser instinct to be abrasive, but it will certainly pay off in the end.

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Sparking Engagement Icebreaker: What's On The Docket?

gavel1

Included in our Visual Icebreaker Kit, the facilitator guide contains dozens of icebreakers covering a variety of outcomes — from building trust to conducting a mini-assessment.

Of course, these activities are designed to be used with the icebreaker images, but could be used reasonably well with the images in the Developing Great Leaders or Building Great Teams toolsets as well. Here’s a sample icebreaker that helps to spark engagement:

Purpose: This Core Icebreaker gets people immediately focused on the topic, and gets insights on your group’s perceptions of the meeting, which may or may not be in alignment with what you planned. VisualsSpeak Core Icebreaker processes are described in much more detail in the Visual Icebreaker Kit Facilitation Guide.

Process at a Glance:

  • Put images in a place accessible to all participants.
  • State the prompt.
  • Give participants 30 seconds to select an image.
  • Participants share about their response with the group.
  • Debrief.

Prompt: Choose an image that represents something related to today’s topic.

Variant: Choose an image that represents something related to today’s topic of (specify the topic).

Debrief:

  • What did you notice?
  • What was the process like for you?
  • Was there anything interesting or surprising?
  • Do you have any new insights?
  • Did you notice any patterns or trends?
  • Does anyone want to add anything else?
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