It was a Friday and I was preparing for next week’s project kick-off meeting. I had put together a team to work on a problem, comprised of software engineers, designers, and marketers. Though they all knew each other, this was the first time this group of people had come together to execute on a project.
To prepare, I gave a presentation on the problem we were trying to solve, some research data, success criteria for the project — the whole nine yards. I was a little anxious because these people were coming together for the first time, and I wanted to ensure that they understood what working together as a team meant.
Often times, people come together and just do their part, not caring or understanding the big picture. They also have trouble comprehending their role, as well as the role of everyone else. In this case, these are just groups of people and not teams.
So what’s a team? A team is formed when:
- People come together to achieve a common goal
- They believe in a common set of values
- They bring abilities and skills that are complementary
- They help one another and are radically transparent and open-minded in their interactions
- When such a team is formed, it leads to something magical and I wanted to communicate this to the team even before we discussed project objectives. My challenge was, how do I communicate this in an effective way?
A traditional approach would have been to put the points in a slide and talk through them like below:
But I knew this would be a highly ineffective way to make a compelling message. Besides, I wanted everyone to reflect on what it means to be a team and I figured that the best way to do this is with imagery.
After all, almost 50% of our brains are involved in visual processing which leads to people following directions with illustrations doing 323% better than those using text directions.
So here is what I did:
I presented the above slide with this Unsplash image and asked them what they saw. They said they saw a group of people, that were perhaps dancing, shouting, and booing.
Next, I presented the below slide and asked them the same question:
Interestingly, people said that they saw:
- Two teams playing rugby
- There’s a competition
- One team appears to be winning
Though both pictures showed a group of people, one was interpreted just as a group while the other was interpreted as a team. Of course, implicit in these pictures were the attributes of a team, so I probed them to help them reflect on why they interpreted the imagery the way they did. And voila! They arrived at the attributes of a team all by themselves. Reflecting helped them better understand the concept I was trying to drive home.
A huge part of my success was due to the narration, interaction, and the imagery that acted as aids in helping people reflect. These are crucial elements of storytelling and effective communication. Imagery does not replace vocal and verbal communication, but it works with them and augments them.