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!

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