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Visual Explorer™: October 2008

October 03, 2008

Powerful moves in Visual Explorer™ facilitation

Here are reflections from our partner Hamish Taylor, outlining some powerful yet simple ways of using Visual Explorer, including digital collages.
"In the first instance, the challenge was to look at new ways of working in Global Virtual Teams. You can probably tell from the commonality of the images that the consensus view (i.e., the subset of common images that were selected by more than one syndicate group) was:
  • International – the stamps.
  • Required concerted involvement – the many hands.
  • Was currently fragile and to thrive would always need nurturing – the cradled feet.
  • Recognised the need for strong networking – rowing boat, interlinked and overlapped hands.
  • Acknowledged the need to pull in one direction whilst strengthening the interconnecting bonds from a diversity of thought.
  • Longed for the opportunity to celebrate and were seeking a new dawn!
Now when we look at the combination of factors, we start to see that hands is a common feature, linkages and connectivity are prominent. It is an organisation which thankfully is 100% equal opportunity, multi-cultural and practises strong gender-equality principles. It is actually a group that is not scared to be soft and understands Emotional Intelligence.

Now let’s look at a different use in which the CCL VE was used to understand the pillars of a leading brand.

Here the most obvious commonality was the craftsmanship, illustrated by the attention to hands and indeed craftsmen. There is also sensuality, taste and texture, all supported by a natural complexity and studied beauty.

Interestingly the brand also has a certain abstract quality and a subtlety that required that the respondents to this exercise, both very talented and experienced marketers, explained the hidden depths of their brand and its unique personality. I was later to discover, from a separate visit, that the depth of painstaking attention to detail was very much part of the company philosophy and indeed lay at the very heart of the brand.

In both instances, the exercise took less than 15 minutes to reveal a roadmap for me to explore later and it served to open up the eyes of the participants to new development pathways and opportunities for discussion. The second example only involved two people, the first had around 16 participants.

Elaborating further on the use of Visual Explorer as a one-on-one before progressing to workshop usage: Group leaders often have fears of what a new coach / consultant will reveal about their organisation and how it is functioning. Using the VE tool on a completely different question from that which will be later used with the group as a whole removes some of those fears. That step gives the group leaders an early insight that allows them to take fresh perspectives when they come to work with the tool properly in the workshop environment. The early exposure has indeed started them thinking. They recall the first round of one-to-one discussions and they engage more with the “live effort” without feeling threatened by what people “might say”.

I have really enjoyed the ease with which you can do a cut and paste from the image bank in order to make a single summary slide on PowerPoint - when you then have the images either on laptop screen or indeed on the big screen, you immediately see another degree of depth to them. Psychologically I think that this is because in daily business, we have become accustomed to taking things into account via the filter of our PC screen dimensions - therefore when you have several VE pictures together on the one screen, you start to identify patterns in terms of predominant colours, predominant moods, presence or absence of movement (some people tend to think in terms of still life, whereas others are more attracted to the images of movement) and the overall number of people in any given collage. I have found it quite compelling when you come across a particular syndicate group whose image selection is dominated by a selection of single people shots - this is very telling and as a coach, you start to probe on that point. Interestingly most often the collection of single people is the "current" and the "ideal" is the groups and team shots. I strongly believe that this is partially driven by the e-mail driven, teleconference facilitated virtual team environment in which more and more organisations are having to operate.

I've also found that by taking the images into the single composite, you get two bites at the feedback cherry - the first when people are talking through their selection of images (still the most powerful) and the second when as the coach/facilitator you run the review of the different syndicate groups on screen. This then leads to the wider audience commenting on each other's groups and I have found that you could almost vote on the composite of composites at that point. Both interactive stages are powerful, the composite exercise allows you to progress extremely rapidly.

As a coach, I have also found it useful to refer back to "representative images" later in the Workshop and use VE both as an energising ice-breaker and a powerful insights anchor. Moreover this use of the tool is something that I feel that CCL should teach as otherwise people will not be able to make full use of it (perhaps not everyone will be able to do so, however everyone could improve their EMPATHY skills through actively using VE).

Final feedback point before I head for bed on this side of the Pond - I get great value from playing the "numbers game" with Visual Explorer. I deliberately start by setting no limits - the syndicates almost always ask for a limiting number, I still don't give them one. You then get some groups who self-limit themselves (most often to 4 or 5 images) but for all groups, I then ask them to cut them down progressively - if they have gone for 7 or 8, I ask for 3; once they have done 3, I ask for 1 image only. This editing process helps distill out the values that are inherent to their image selection. The forced choice allows you to ask not only about the "Why that ONE?" but also the "Why did you cut out those ones at the first editing stage?". You can only do this if you do not force the groups to pick a limited number of images - once they have done their first selection and talked about them, you know that each image selected has a particular value to the overall task; therefore the editing process to 2nd Stage and 3rd Stage are effectively value-based prioritisations.
From: Hamish Taylor

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