When teams need to talk about big ideas, complex challenges, or emotions, it can be hard to know where to start. In these cases, words can be inadequate means for getting a team to talk. Among the tools in my travel satchel are markers, post-its, and tape and, also a deck of visual image cards. These cards contain a wide variety of evocative photos that help people to express themselves through metaphors, intuition, and emotion.

Visual images stimulate our right (creative) brain. Responding to an image lowers our defenses, encourages us to see things in new ways, and connects us more fully with our emotions. Visual images offer a momentary break from overthinking a problem, providing us with much needed mental space to gain a fresh perspective.

There are a lot of ways to use visual image cards. Here three ways I’ve used them recently:

Ask your team members to each pick an image that best describes one strength and one need for improvement.

Ask people at a community gathering to pick three cards: One that describes the current state of public education, a second that describes the education they want for their children, and a third card that describes what needs to change to make that aspiration happen.

Ask employees after a significant change (e.g., a merger) to pick a card that best describes what they are feeling.

Once people pick their cards, here’s a way to help them discuss what they chose:

1. Hold up the card you picked so everyone can see it. Ask everyone but the person holding the card to share what they see in the image as it relates to the question asked.

2. After you hear from the group, describe what you see in the photo and why you chose that image to answer the question. Feel free to integrate the insights you heard from others.

3. As a group explore common themes, differences, and underlying emotions in each of the images selected.

Given that so many of our meetings happen virtually these days, it’s not really practical to give each meeting participant their own identical card deck. So, I created a sheet of 36 images sourced from Unsplash, a website that hosts high-quality, freely usable photos. Each image has a number in the bottom corner. I place a link to the image sheet in the “chat” box and invite participants to open the document on their computer. Then, when participants state which image they chose they refer to it by the number and the meeting facilitator can use the share screen function to project the image for the whole team to see.

For in-person meetings it’s fun to have a physical deck of cards. There are many such products, including the ones available at the HRDQ Store, Conversation Sparker, and Points of You. If you would like a copy of my photo image sheet just write to me with “visual image tool” in the subject line.

Image Credit: Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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