Thursday, April 12, 2007

Visualization: (a no-brainer or) a right-brainer?

On the morning of day three of a workshop launching a multi-million Euro strategy, we asked more than fifty international participants to write on a few flip chart sheets what they wanted to continue working on, what they wanted more of and what they wanted less of. Top of the ‘more of’ list was a desparate plea for more work on the integration of the various components of the strategy, which seemed to be working at cross-purposes at times. Responding to this, we quickly rethought the agenda of the day and after lunch we posed the question: “When fully integrated, what will the strategy look like to you, visually?”

Organized in groups of five to eight people according to language and role (as representatives of geographic, thematic and coordinating teams) and equipped with flipcharts and coloured pens, the room was soon buzzing with energetic activity. For the next forty minutes, we watched as each group worked and re-worked their ideas on paper. In most groups imagination was captured, creativity unleashed and collective ideas were caught easily in pictures that seemed to grow organically and colourfully from the page. For others, the process was rather more awkward, with wordy explanations and cravings for the diagramming tools in PowerPoint.

At the ‘great unveiling’ a representative from each group explained their drawing, as well as the process by which the group arrived at it. This was followed by a larger group discussion, exploring observations about the drawings and the exercise itself.

One thing we noticed was that after the exercise, integration was no longer a problem. Having gone through the exercise to work together to visualize what integration looked like, it became apparent that it would be possible and that collectively it would take form as the process of working together unfolded, as demonstrated by the exercise (after an initial 10 minute struggle, teams worked together to figure it out.)

The visualization exercise worked to dissipate the fear about this complex part of the strategy. At the same time it was captured in a creative and fun way. For some people for whom integration was not an issue, this exercise seemed like a waste of time. For others for whom integration was a preoccupation, it dispelled their fear and let them move on to concentrate on other parts of the programme with greater confidence and energy.

Was the exercise a no-brainer or a right-brainer? Actually, it doesn’t matter too much. For the group as a whole, we noticed that immediately after the exercise the integration issue was no longer an obstacle. That worked for us!


A week ago, whilst on the train returning from a week-long workshop, I was skimming through the feedback forms and surprised to read the comments of one participant. A recommendation for next time: “Less touchy-feely”. For a while I’ve been wondering where this comment came from. In a literal sense there was no physical touching or feeling of ourselves or one another. The closest we came was a group drawing exercise (more on that in another blog post). And as far as tuning into personal or group feelings – a light “How is everyone feeling about the workshop and the progress we are making?” was as far as it went. I think my ideas of touchy-feely must be a little different to others. So, please tell me, what does touchy-feely mean to you?