Visual Language (#Visual Thinking) as an approach for working with teams and organisations

I used to work in international-cooperation. In 2008, one year before the Coup d’Etat, I was joining some proceedings in Honduras with two organisations who had significant experience and presence in the area. It was imperative to draw up lines of action that would encourage the general public to engage and participate. Realistic, ambitious lines of action that would respond to a tense socio-political environment that was economically polarised. It was not an easy task. The analysis and starting situation they described to us told us it was a tricky, complex situation. Filled with violence and impunity. A social structure that was shifting between uncertainty and fear. Two highly dedicated organisations, with a clear commitment but with their own uncertainties and fears (both personal and organisational). At that point, we spread a large, blank piece of paper out on the wall. We began by identifying the questions that arose in that concrete time and place in the country. We wrote the answers directly onto that blank piece of paper. We moved the conversation away from us, the people there in that space, and we focused our attention on the sheet of paper, upon which we began, little by little, to construct an image (using words and pictures) that summarised the whole big picture, with details emerging from that overall common narrative. The complex, tangled reality we were facing transformed into a more neatly ordered ball of wool, as we untangled the threads we needed to weave together a sound, focused proposition for work that responded to the challenges we faced and was grounded in reality, with real possibilities that the organisations were able to implement. I didn’t know it at the time, but the thing we built together on that wall was my first exercise in Visual Thinking.

8 years later, having spent time in Boston (where I discovered the discipline and science of Visual Thinking), I have co-written a book on Visual Thinking and created a business. My professional activity is now dedicated to communication, visual facilitation and team coaching. The same work and focus, from a different angle.

In 2016, a well-established company in the automotive industry was faced with the challenge of communicating who they were and what they did, both to its employees (a diverse range of people based all over the world) and to its customers (mostly international). They wanted to make their proposition “understandable”. The company had a huge amount of experience in systemizing its processes, its quality systems and implementing their own management model which has become renowned both locally and at an international level. The discourse, the proposition and the model were complex, filled with complicated terms and processes. People sometimes started to panic when faced with the sheer number of workflows, processes, initiatives and actions. At that point, I spread a large, blank piece of paper out on the wall. We switched off the computers, and we asked ourselves, what are we trying to say? Little by Little, the main elements making up the core of their management model began to emerge. From there, new ideas began to arise; they were visualised very powerfully and, as a whole, explained all of the strategies that, as a whole, clearly explained the entire business proposition and approach. From this joint activity, we created a new way of explaining what this company did; a more comprehensible, understandable narrative, with greater potential to be communicated and therefore ensure that others could buy into it.

People who use graphic recording and visual facilitation use listening and (basic!) drawing skills to guide people and teams to go into greater depth about what is happening. We make the complexities of reality more visual and comprehensible. Quite simply, simpler. More understandable. More… here and now.

When we see our words and our thoughts expressed in front of us in the ‘here and now’, displayed on paper, we become more aware of what is happening in this space. We understand it a little better. We go a bit further. And if you see it, if we see it, we have more possibilities to take a small step into a different area.

The various developments of Visual Thinking include, among others:

  • Recording a visual action (#GraphicRecording),
  • Putting ideas and information in order and sequencing them (#MindMapping),
  • Creating a process structure, a common narrative, explaining who we are (#StoryTelling, #Infographics)
  • The creation and appropriation of processes through participation and team-building (#VisualFacilitation)

In our work with our teams, in the development of our projects, at our meetings or in our daily work, these open up the huge possibility of:

When we talk about Visual Thinking, we are talking about a language. It is not about drawing. It’s about summarising, understanding and making something understandable. It’s about visualising the bigger, overall picture with small, diverse nuances; words paired with silence, the explicit with the implicit. A language which helps us to structure information. Which facilitates the (co-)creation of a process. Which encourages dialogue, conversation, connections (between ideas, people, plans and voices). Which allows us to nurture, put things in motion, and in some (special) circumstances, really shake things up. And it helps us to communicate and express ourselves more powerfully and effectively.

The use of visual language is not simply the act of “drawing and scribbling”; it is an exercise that connects the mind and emotions to encourage conversations, create alignments and commitments, and pick out solutions or visualise possible scenarios – all in a common language, which brings people together. Which makes an organisation’s relationships and way of thinking more horizontal.

Visual Thinking is accessible to anyone who wants to connect with their teams and their clients. Accessible to anyone who wants to communicate better. Accessible to any individuals or teams at work who are committed to change and to opening up new, emerging opportunities.

Because the question isn’t “Can I draw?” The question is… Do I want to improve how I connect, communicate, summarise… (with) who we are and what we do (as people, as leaders, as teams and as organisations)?

 

 

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