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


Engaging Curiosity in a Group

When you’re working with a group, there are times when things just work well from the beginning — people are sharing and the dynamic is good. Then there are the other times.

If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where people just aren’t opening up to each other, work at engaging their curiosity. When people get curious, they naturally lower some of their barriers and dynamics change.

Ask questions like, “Could you tell me more about that image?” Or ask them how they approached the process with questions like, “What caught your attention about these images that caused you to select them?”

The trick is to start with questions that aren’t personal, so participants don’t immediately shut down. From that point, often people will allow you to open the door to a deeper conversation.


Tell your clients to stick it!

Yes, that’s right. Tell your clients to stick it. The photographs! To the wall! What did you think I meant?

Painters Tape!

When facilitating VisualsSpeak processes we recommend
you carry a couple of rolls of painter’s tape with you. These are the blue rolls of tape you can find in most hardware stores.

Painter’s tape – Its versatile and won’t ruin your images or the surfaces the images are being stuck to. It doesn’t leave a sticky residue like masking tape, and you won’t have tape welded to your photographs.

On the walls

One very successful technique we use is to have clients create a group collage on the wall. In advance, we tape a large piece of wide (white) paper on the wall. Then, as a team, people place their images on the paper by applying a piece of doubled-over tape on the back of the photos. Doing a group collage on the wall also shifts the client’s visual perspective of the work, opening up further possibilities of gaining insights.

On the ceiling or window?

I facilitated a leadership development retreat with a group of high level government executives. This is a very creative bunch. One breakout group taped their collage to the ceiling. Another created a frame out of tape on the window. And another framed their collage with tape on the wall.

Use multiple senses

Remember – One reason VisualsSpeak is such a powerful tool for group work is because it involves multiple senses: visual, verbal and kinesthetic. Using tape adds another level to the kinesthetic sense. It is tactile.

Rebellion = Fun – Don’t forget the rebellious nature of taping things to the walls. After all, didn’t your mother tell you not to stick things on the walls?


Visuals can Save You TIme

Visuals are not  just another thing

You’ve got 45 minutes. And easily an hour’s worth of content to cover. As it is, you’ll be racing through things, trying to make sure you get to all the key points that the folks in the room need to know. And now you have to add visuals, too!? No way!

Visuals are tools

This situation, while unfortunate, is all too common. We all get asked to do more in a shorter amount of time, whether it’s topics in a regular team meeting or a half-day facilitated “retreat.” So when it comes to adding visuals, it can seem like it just can’t be squeezed in.
But that’s the trap: thinking of the visual components as content. The visuals are a tool — a deepening tool. Do you have enough time for, say, a flipchart? Or a high-backed chair to sit in? Of course — these don’t take time themselves, they just help you use you time more effectively.

VisualsSpeak is a Method, not Content

That’s what visuals do, too. They aren’t the content itself, but rather a way to augment that content. Make it more evocative. Make it experiential. The best thing about using visuals to deepen experiences is that you can often do it in a SHORTER time, in fact.
So the next time you’re backed in a time corner and are feeling overwhelmed, don’t let that stop you from incorporating visuals. Not only will you convey more, you just might be able to do it more quickly!


Tip: Don't Try To Keep All The Balls In The Air

When facilitating a session–particularly one with VisualsSpeak–there is often a need to record, to keep track of what people are saying and doing. But even more than that, there is a need to be present, to be immersed in what’s going on.
Sometimes, those two roles conflict. It’s hard to be present when you’re also trying to scrawl everything neatly enough that you can read it again later. So how do you do it all?

The best way is not to try.

When you’re working with a group, it’s best if you can bring someone else in to take notes. That way, you can focus on the facilitation. If that’s not available (and it’s appropriate), you can audio-record.

In a pinch, you can ask members of the group to take turns taking notes for each other. If you’re working one-on-one, you are more likely to be able to record the session. Even just a recording with a cell phone can be enough to spark a participant’s memory of key points!
Whatever solution you choose, if you find yourself not paying full attention because you’re note-taking, it’s time to change it up. The most important thing you can do in the moment is to be present.


Tip: Good Tools for Bad Rooms

Heading to present or facilitate at a conference, but they won’t give you tables? Or working in a room that is all set up with lecture or classroom seating? Consider using the VisualsSpeak mini-tools: Building Great Teams or Developing Great Leaders.

These sets have smaller cards, and are easier to handle on your lap. They don’t have the lamination of the other sets that can make the slippery.

You can pass a participant deck of VisualsSpeak mini cards down each row of chairs, and people can select a “hand of cards.” From there, they can share with the people right around them. It may not be optimal when compared with a session with participants around tables, but it’s night-and-day when compared to the usual sage-on-the-stage lecture format!


Who provides the content for your sessions?

I’ve been using a format for sessions lately that have been getting great reviews from participants. Instead of deciding what information I want to impart, I create a framing question that allows the people in the room to share what they know.

How it works

I was asked to create a session on diversity and inclusion. The agency has a multicultural workforce. Rather than focusing on theory, I asked the participants to create images in small groups in response to the framing question, What is respect?

Each person selected images for an individual image, and shared the story with others in their group. After they were finished, each small group then worked together to create one larger image about respect. The groups then shared what they came up with.

What happened?

The conversations were rich and deep. Many issues surfaced around the subtle ways people don’t feel respected around lifestyle choices like smoking, food, and religion. Important things that undermined feelings of respect in their daily work. Participants reported learning more from their peers than they had learned in other more traditional diversity training.

Also works at conferences

I have been using a similar format for conference sessions. I ask a question related to the conference theme, and allow participants to create images and share their experience and wisdom with each other. Many people have reported these sessions are the best they have attended at conferences.

How can you invite the wisdom of your participants into the room?


Instructional Design Guru for iphone

Connie Malamed has released a new reference and performance support app for instructional designers. It defines 450 terms all related to developing learning. Here’s what Instructional Design Guru looks like:

I don’t know about you, but I’m always rustling through my bookshelves trying to remember which book explained a term or theory. Now it’s at my fingertips. At $4.99, it costs quite a bit less than one of those books.

Instructional Design Guru is available on the ITunes app store.


Using images for personal development

Using images is a great way to get past the places of stuck. You know the times when you try looking at a particular situation or problem from many angles and no solutions emerge? Doing an exercise with photographs can help you tap into your inner wisdom and get past the place of stuck. Here are some tips on how to get some breakthroughs.

If you are a coach, counselor or therapist, you can do this exercise with your clients to help them get through a particular challenge.

art toolsWhat you’ll need

  • 2 pieces of background paper
  • Any VisualsSpeak image decks or your own collection of images
  • Writing paper
  • Pen

Choosing a good question for yourself

Choosing a good question is one of the keys to having a successful experience. It should be broad enough to incorporate a wide range of possibilities. It can be focused on a specific challenge but make sure there is some room for your mind to move.

Try one of these:

  • What do I need to move on?
  • What do I need to do to solve this problem?
  • What is the piece of the puzzle I am missing?

Here’s how you do it

Lay out the two pieces of paper side-by-side with a little space between them. The paper on the left represents where you are today and the right represents where you would like to be in the future.

Give yourself a maximum of five minutes to go through your images and choose the ones that jump out at you. Don’t over-think it. Then arrange the images on the two pieces of paper. Again, don’t think, do.

Write it down

After you complete arranging your images, use your  paper and pen to write down the story of everything the images are telling you. Pay particular attention to any new ideas or sparks. Now walk away from the writing and your collage for a day.

Do it again

When you later return to your collage, ask yourself the same question and rearrange the same images in a different way. Do you notice anything different? Write these other insights down. You can repeat this process for several days if you choose.

Talk it out

Another way to approach the telling of the story is to share it with a trusted friend. Sometimes putting these thoughts, ideas, and insights into words can add extra power to the process.

The last and most important step

This last part is crucial for the successful outcome of your exercise. I want you to stand on your head and scream like a monkey. Just kidding. I only wanted to see if you would do it. But please, send pictures anyhow. :>)

What was the experience like for you?

I would love to hear about your experiences doing this exercise or anything similar. Leave a comment. Thanks for reading.



What do images mean?

Many people want us to tell them what the images we use mean. Or what the arrangements mean.

Here’s the thing. After watching thousands of people tell us what the same images mean to them, we know it varies. There are some patterns, with about 60% having similar idea, but the rest are all over the map.

Just when we think we have heard it all, someone comes up with something we have never heard before.

This is why we focus on asking participants what the images mean. Even if they don’t think they know, once they get started talking, they discover they do. The story unfolds.