When an organisation faces major change, it's often the job of a facilitator to align everyone behind one vision. But, without visuals, that's a whole lot easier said than done. We spoke to founder of Chameleon Works, Deborah Fleming, who combines visual thinking techniques with tools like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, to guide organisations through change.
At Scriberia, we often talk about the power of visuals to clarify plans and simplify messages. And, within an organisation on the verge of change, clarity and simplicity become critical. Without them, the word 'change' can unleash a range of difficult and unproductive feelings within an organisation - from concern to confusion. Deborah Fleming, founder of change management consultancy, Chameleon Works, is dedicated to helping people and organisations adapt to - and succeed at - change. And during her years of practice, she has discovered, that pictures have an important role to play at every step.
So, Deborah, how do visuals enable change?
"Change can be complex and difficult but, if you're going to make a success of it, it's important that people are able to connect with it. It's not possible to stay in denial about change when you see everything - your fears and doubts, for instance - tangibly expressed, in a picture. Pictures help people acknowledge that change is happening; that it needs to happen; and that there's a place in that picture for them.
Putting yourself in the picture can be a very cathartic process. It really helps focus your feelings on where change is taking you, as an individual, as a member of a team, and as an organisation as a whole."
How do you use visuals in your work?
"For me, it's not just about presenting information in picture-form. The process of making the picture is very important. Working with Scriberia's scribes, for instance, allows groups to do their thinking collectively - getting people who spend a lot of time in their own heads to externalise their thoughts in a space where everyone can see them.
Together, we can see where we are, where we're going. And when people are a part of creating something together, they are more likely to feel they have a part to play in the future. They develop a greater commitment to it. It all becomes more concrete, more tangible.
But, I also encourage individuals to draw their own pictures - no matter how basic - to express how they see themselves in the organisation as it is right now and as it will be when it changes."
But, How does the kind of visual thinking we do at scriberia connect to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator?
"Both sensing and intuitive personality types will respond to pictures, though they will do so for different reasons. Sensing types are 'Adaptive Creatives' - they love to work with something that already exists but feel more uncomfortable working from a blank sheet of paper. They appreciate and focus on the detail and nuance in a picture.
Intuitive types are 'Innovative Creatives' - they love to draw something from scratch and are very comfortable with that. When looking at pictures they won’t focus on the details as much as they will try to find the meaning within them.
When I've worked with mixed groups of both types, I've seen that all enjoy the process. The adaptive creatives may find the early - blank sheet - stage a bit uncomfortable, but once the intuitive innovative creatives, and the scribe, had got some ideas up on the wall, they come into their own - working with and building upon them."
How can visuals smooth the path for change?
"In many ways, but at an organisational level, I find it is far harder to engage employees if you don't provide a visualisation of that change. Without pictures, some people just don’t get it. In large scale strategies, I’m careful to make sure that the communications are a good mixture of text and visual information, and always try to provide a picture of what the change will look like.
"At a leadership level, I’ve used pictures at an earlier point in the process - in the creation of a vision for the future, and in aligning the leadership behind it before it's rolled out. It acts as a tool for engagement, a process for co-creation and sharing a journey of change. It creates common ground for the existing team and an invaluable tool for the induction of new team members."
How do people respond to working visually?
"It's really not such a big leap for most people. If you talk to people about their work, one of the first things you'll notice is the fluency with which they use visual language and metaphor to describe their situation. They might say they're on the 'frontline' of change... that they're 'dodging bullets'... and building on these metaphors can be really helpful. I'll ask them: 'how are you going to dodge those bullets'.
Metaphor can be a really powerful way to unlock feelings, and express them in a way that's easier for others to understand. For instance, connection is a common problem. People might describe feeling isolated or disconnected from their team. From there, I might ask them to draw what connection and community would look like to them - and that can be incredibly powerful.
That picture can become the catalyst for a conversation about what is standing in the way of better connection; what is preventing that picture becoming a reality. Sometimes it’s easier to draw emotion than it is to talk about it. Pictures can resonate with everyone and provide a common language, when the right words are hard to find."