Visualization : a representation of an object, mental image, situation, or set of information as a physical chart or other image.

Do you ever find it difficult to communicate the status of a project, educate your team members on the context of the organization, or describe how a specific system or process works? In our growing, global society, visualizations have the power to educate faster and more elegantly than spoken or written word. They also have the power to more deeply convey what you are trying to communicate.

Visualizations serve as decision-making tools, communication tools, and educational tools. At work, we often use visualizations in the form of charts in a presentation, linear to-do lists on a white board, or maps from a software tool for analyzing and communicating phenomena going on in our organization. Visualizations often represent physical phenomena too large to see with the human eye or trends over time. In the more creative realms, we also use visualizations to communicate mental images or intangible things, similar to metaphor. However, visualizations are also crucial for leaders and team members to use for collaborative efforts.

In Awake Leadership, visualizations aren’t just bar charts and heat maps used to display what is going on at department meetings. Though they are valuable for that purpose, different types of visualizations have the power to cultivate collective understanding of the objectives, context, and progress of your team. If a picture is worth 1000 words, a well-made visualization is worth 1000 insights for enhanced collaboration, decision-making, and progress toward objectives. A lot of the time, we keep using the same models and methods for working through things. We make very linear to-do lists or plans for the week or for a project. Making these visualizations with your team is a powerful, interactive new way to problem solve, develop creativity, and cultivate deeper engagement. Here are three visualization examples from Awake Leadership guidebook exercises.

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Mind Mapping: Make Connections

Mind Mapping is a powerful visualization tool for understanding a topic, project, or team vision as well as a method for coming up with fresh ideas and approaches. I love to use mind mapping as a tool for brainstorming and planning a project or understanding a topic. Mind Mapping elegantly mirrors how the brain works in making connections and as we mind map a project or a topic, we naturally rewire our brain to think big. In section 1 and 4 of Awake Leadership, we use mind mapping to make your Vision Plan and optimize your team’s tool belt.  

Landscape: Put Your Work Into Context

Making a landscape of our organization’s physical network enables us to understand and connect with our larger purpose within the organization. We zoom out to appreciate how we fit into the big picture. The visual serves as a discussion point and we can begin to talk about what we want to change or what will change, why, and how to move forward. In the Context section of Awake Leadership, I guide you through making a map of your organization’s company network.

Block Diagrams: Show the Flow

Another favorite visualization of mine is a block diagram, which represents a process flow or how a system works. Block diagrams include the multiple components of a process connected sequentially. The connections represent a flow of information. There is also often a feedback loop. This visual can be used to describe to your team or leader how an ongoing process works for education or discussion about incremental improvement. In Awake Leadership, the diagram below describes how the Awake spiral staircase works, as you iterate the method and progress toward your objectives as a team.

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As famously noted many times: when we teach something to others, we often learn more ourselves. Many times, we have an idea stored in our head or we want to think through something but it’s stuck in our mental space. Getting it out on paper, on a white board, or out through art can help us to really think through what is going on, communicate it to others, and make a platform for brainstorming as a team. While working through the creation of a visualization, you often uncover important realizations and remove blind spots for yourself as well as your team members. As we work through making a visualization with the team, everyone will learn something new or uncover blind spots about their work. With collective understanding of the team’s vision, context, and processes, you can better work toward making informed decisions about how to improve or respond to change. If you can visualize it, you can understand it and you can make impactful, positive change. Do you use visualizations as a tool for setting objectives for your team, enabling collective understanding the organization, and communicating processes?

Thanks for reading! To learn more about how to lead your team through these visualization techniques step-by-step and to discover many more, order your Awake Leadership guidebook here and learn more about how to work through the guidebook here.

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