Reveal insights and paths forward through nonverbal expression with Drawing Together

Christiaan Verwijs
Nov 8 · 5 min read

Liberating Structures are a collection of interaction patterns that allow you to unleash and involve everyone in a group — from extroverted to introverted and from leaders to followers. In this series of posts, we show how Liberating Structures can be used with Scrum.

Have you ever been part of a group conversation where one person dominated because they were better at expressing their thoughts than others? Or because they were able to use more fancy words? Have you found yourself or others jumping to conclusions based on how you interpreted what another person said, without validating it with them?

The purpose of the Drawing Together

Drawing Together is a Liberating Structure that is all about creativity and interpretation. It exists to reveal insights and paths forward through nonverbal expression. Instead of using verbal language as its medium for interaction, it makes use of constrained visual language with five purposefully abstract symbols. This simple vocabulary allows everyone to fully participate because it removes the influence of knowing more (or fancier) words, as well as being more skilled or faster at verbalizing thoughts into words than others.

Drawing Together was created by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, based on prior work by David Sibbet and Angeles Arrien.

Illustration by Thea Schukken

Steps to facilitate Drawing Together

  • (5 min) Introduce the purpose of Drawing Together. Get participants comfortable with both drawing and the language by drawing the five symbols one-by-one. A triangle represents a goal. A rectangle represents support. A spiral represents change or transformation. A star-person represents a relationship and the circle represents wholeness;
  • (10 min) Invite participants to draw the first version of their story of their journey into and through a challenge or innovation. Emphasize that drawing should take place in silence and without words or other symbols;
  • (10 min) Invite participants to create a second version of their story by dramatizing the size, color, and position of the symbols they used;
  • (10 min) Form pairs. Interpret each other’s drawings. The person who has done the drawing does not speak. Switch after 5 minutes;
  • (10 min) Debrief important patterns with the whole group. You can use 1–2–4-ALL for a more thorough debrief;
The five symbols as drawn by Keith McCandless

Examples of Drawing Together

  • Use it for coaching teams or individuals by inviting them to draw their journey into and through a challenge they face;
  • Use it during a Sprint Retrospective to ask members to draw their experience of the Sprint. Dig deeper into the patterns that emerge for this; what are common supports? What relationships we are under-utilizing?;
  • Use it at the start of an event by asking participants to draw something that relates to the purpose of the event and to them, personally. For example, at the start of a teambuilding workshop, you could ask people to draw their experience with working in teams. You could also ask how people are experiencing working with Scrum or to draw their understanding of their role;
  • Use it to navigate conflict by inviting everyone to draw their experience of the conflict. You could even do this in the moment, as a conflict emerges, as a way to express the complex feelings a conflict triggers as well as giving people some time to cool down;
Examples of Drawing Together. And Maryse Meinen explaining the symbols during a meetup.

Combinations of Drawing Together

  • For a thorough debrief, follow-up with What, So What, Now What to dig deeper into analyzing the patterns and potential improvements;
  • Use the drawings as input for Conversation Cafe to engage groups in deeper conversations about the patterns in their drawings;
  • Use it as a riff on Appreciative Interviews by replacing the success stories people share in this structure with their drawings;
  • Instead of sharing the drawings in pairs or small groups, follow-up Drawing Together with a Gallery Walk where you collect all drawings in the floor or a wall and silently observe patterns. Debrief patterns in small groups afterward. What patterns are immediately obvious? Which symbols appear often? Which seem to be missing?;

Tips

  • Drawing Together may feel “too risky” or “too creative” for use with some groups. Some groups may also struggle with the visual language. It often helps to frame it as an opportunity to have serious fun while building a deeper understanding of each other and a challenge at hand;
  • If people struggle with understanding “wholeness”, you can reframe it as “unity”, “feeling one with others” or “feeling good and secure with others and yourself”;
  • For groups that are worried about their ability to draw, you can practice drawing the symbols first. One-by-one, explain how to draw each shape and let participants draw it. Then explain what the symbol stands for;
  • If you are short on time, you can skip the second round where participants create a second, more dramatized version of their story;

Conclusion

Drawing Together emphasizes what is true about all languages; there is no meaning in the symbols or words themselves. Instead, their meaning flows from how senders and receivers interpret them. And these interpretations can be vastly different — something we often forget when we use words. Drawing Together helps groups to purposefully create space for expressing and interpreting complex thoughts as well as validating their interpretations.

Participants of Drawing Together often note three reasons why Drawing Together works so well, despite initial worries of having to ‘draw instead of talk’. The first is that Drawing Together uses a purposefully constrained and simple visual language to level the playing field for participants. Even this constrained language allows a universe of possibilities in terms of what stories can be told through it, as well as the interpretations flowing from them. Secondly, hearing another person interpret your drawing without context often reveals big insights for the drawer as well as the interpreter. Finally, Drawing Together can visually reveal big patterns in groups.

We’re always eager to hear where you’ve used Drawing Together. Please let us know in the comments.

Interested in learning many different Liberating Structures in an intense 2-day workshop? Check out our agenda for upcoming Immersion Workshops. If you’re aiming to join, book early — they are exceptionally popular. And join the Dutch User Group to learn more about Liberating Structures.

Christiaan Verwijs

Written by

I aim to liberate teams & organizations from de-humanizing and ineffective ways of organizing work. Professional Scrum Trainer & Steward @ Scrum.org

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