Opportunities And Obstacles Of Graphic Facilitation For CIOs Leading Digital Transformations


Scott Williams, founder and CEO of Throughline, is a pioneer in visual strategy, enterprise transformation and cultural change.

The human element in a large-scale digital transformation can often get overlooked; however, it is key to establishing alignment, encouraging buy-in and promoting innovation across an organization. CIOs sit at the transformation’s epicenter, responsible for leading both the technical changes and the people impacted. Your organization’s people not only want to be heard but also want to be part of the solution. How can CIOs prioritize the human element and stay a step ahead during change?

One way is to use graphic facilitation, where a skilled facilitator graphically records a meeting in real time while inviting collaboration from attendees. The result is a visual artifact that captures the discussion and solutions. When thoughtfully conducted, these interactive sessions and their resulting artifacts have the power to establish common ground among stakeholders and maximize their engagement.

To get the most out of graphic facilitation during a digital transformation, CIOs should consider these opportunities and obstacles when incorporating this tool in meetings.

Opportunities To Gain

• Audience Alignment

When graphic facilitation is used in a meeting, the facilitator leverages the universality of images and conducts exercises that prompt participants to co-create solutions. In How To Make Meetings Work, Michael Doyle and David Straus describe how a visual recording ensures that “contributions have been heard and preserved in full view of the group.”

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Capturing live feedback and steering co-creation encourages group memory, which Doyle and Straus describe as transferring the “ownership” of ideas from the individual to the group. The increased engagement leads to buy-in and alignment—both essential to scaling a digital transformation.

• Increased Innovation

As innovation drivers within their organizations, CIOs can use visualization techniques during graphic facilitation exercises to motivate employee creativity and chip away at hesitancy toward change.

For example, visual cues relieve the strain on working memory, freeing the mind to think critically and creatively. During a workshop, the participants often try another creative brainstorming tool: drawing. The white paper Design For Visual Empowerment by Verena Paepcke-Hjeltness and Teddy Lu describes how sketching notes reduces “the inhibition threshold of putting pen on paper.” Effectively, it offers a route around inhibitions and self-consciousness, which can stifle new ideas and unconventional approaches.

• Streamlined Processes

The complex scope of a digital transformation is often filled with unknown and changing variables, which can be the demise of big-picture goals. For this reason, CIOs must streamline processes to deliver adaptive results. In fact, WAEPA CIO Brandon Jones champions re-imagining a digital transformation as a digital evolution. Transformations have an endpoint, but if you’re talking about innovation and being ready for the future, you have to constantly evolve with new processes.

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Graphic facilitation is a way to create these new processes and build the foundation for a visual strategy map, enabling you to clearly communicate the road ahead. Aligning objectives and then aligning employees to those objectives further enables tracking for senior leadership, as well as providing a cost-avoidance platform that prevents expensive backsliding.

Obstacles To Consider

• Virtual Graphic Facilitation

In the spring of 2020, like many companies around the world, my company had to pivot. For us, this meant graphic recording and facilitating shifted from capturing and receiving ideas from a group of people at the same time, in the same place, to people capturing and receiving ideas at different times in different locations.

This has two side effects. First, key stakeholders in the meeting are not as engaged because they are not seeing the graphic facilitator record in real time. This decreases the collaborated brainstorming that comes from the graphicly facilitated exercise, resulting in the second side effect: a less robust visual artifact.

The way to combat this virtual side effect is to use a digital collaboration workspace where you bring your group of people back to one location. Then, the graphic facilitator engages their attention through group exercises that unfold in the digital workspace. Then your people can go back to capturing and receiving ideas in one location at the same time.

• Lost Visual Artifacts

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Whether your graphic facilitation meeting is virtual, in person or hybrid, if the visual artifacts are not immediately used, you risk losing the gold mine of information your people generated. Actively using the artifacts becomes especially hard when you only have the digital file of the graphic recording, as opposed to the wall-size panel often generated in live workshops.

A way to solve this is to, directly after the workshop, display the visual artifact in a common location where your entire team can visually consume the new ideas and processes daily. This generates conversation and encourages buy-in.

• Misunderstood Artifacts

There may be several large artifacts and panels created from using graphic facilitation during a meeting. When CIOs try to explain the ideas to someone who was not at the meeting, key messages can be lost and even misunderstood.

The solution is to create a message map that highlights three key points that the artifact is communicating. This helps the CIO and key stakeholders explain the strategy in common language.

Digital evolution continues long after a transformation ends, and graphic facilitation is meant to have an enduring impact through the visual artifacts it creates. As CIOs navigate uncertainty and advancement alike, these artifacts can refocus misaligned communications, elevate the enterprise and achieve ROI.


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