Using picture card decks in my work has made me a believer in the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I have seen how visual images can elicit new insights, invite people to tap into their emotional selves, and reveal previously hidden aspirations. That’s why I always travel with a deck of 47 assorted photo images that range from a race car, a herd of gazelle, a cloudy sky, and children going down a slide together. A picture card deck is one of the most flexible and effective tools I use for helping teams have breakthrough conversations. Here’s how the tool works.

Spread the photo cards on a table or floor surface. Then pose an open-ended question to the group. Almost any relevant question works. Here are some example questions:

What is this team’s greatest opportunity to become more effective?
What do we want to set our company apart in the eyes of our customers?
What is one significant strength or gift you bring to this team?
How do you define “success” in your professional life?

After posing a question, invite each participant to take 5 to 10 minutes to select a photo that best answers the question for her or him. Be sure to remind the group that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. Once cards are selected, ask each member of the team to describe:

What do I see in the card literally?
Why did I select this card to respond to the question?

After each team member shares his or her card, invite members of the group to add any other insights they gained from this image.

The power of images as metaphors lies in how they elicit a fresh, often symbolic response. So, don’t get stuck on literal or logical interpretations of photos. For example, a picture of a skyscraper may represent bigger ideas like stability, shelter, or ingenuity.

I’ve used this tool with groups ranging in size from 6 to 200 people. For a group of ten, one deck suffices. For larger groups, multiple decks are useful. Two picture card decks I really like are Picture Your Legacy cards and Visual Explorer cards.

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