Use of Collaboration Explorer and Visual Explorer in a Capacity Building Retreat in Nairobi

By Kathy Vaughan
Center for Creative Leadership


quoteI used Collaboration Explorer and Visual Explorer as part of a retreat for a high performing team within a multilateral agency whose work is pro-poor. The team is comprised of core staff and several consultants. The team has operated in a highly dynamic environment over the past year with large scale organizational change and with lack of formal leadership of the new overarching entity within which they sit. Over the course of the year, I have worked with them on a capacity building initiative to enhance the collective capacity of the team in the areas of communication, conflict management and negotiation. The September retreat marked the end of the engagement. The design for the retreat included both Visual Explorer and Collaboration Explorer.

Visual Explorer was used for engagement around the idea of collaboration, on Day 1. VE cards were arranged around the back of the room. Participants were asked to pick one image that best represented collaborative teamwork. They went through the star model for dialogue, and experienced the power of the tool. Insights from the participants included the value of diversity, the need to be open to other perspectives, and inclusion. The participants were challenged to consider how this process of slowing down, describing thoughts and ideas without evaluation or judgment, and having space for full participation and meaning creation would add value to their work.

For Collaboration Explorer, I introduced the tool using the information provided through CCL. I arranged all the orange cards on a table in the back of the room. I wrote all the labels for the Orange cards on a flip chart on the board with an asterisk next to the 7 collaborative principles.

Participants chose two orange cards which spoke to the current state of working relations. They gathered in a circle outside and handed their cards to me face down, so that selection was anonymous. I went around with the deck of cards and had each person pick two which they read out loud. I then organized the cards in categories and noted them on the wall under the label current state.

Next I asked the participants to reflect on the visual images they selected earlier, answering the question: What is our ideal state of collaborative working relations? From there, I asked them to examine the cards and pick 2 cards each which reflected the ideal state of collaborative working relations. The participants read out their selected cards as they stood in a circle within the learning space. After some discussion, the group agreed to look at, analyze the cards on the floor to identify their top ten. One participant took responsibility for reading them out loud and keeping track of the count. In the end, the participants had about 12 ideas. They agreed to move on without full closure to the next step. I put up their options on the wall under the heading What is our best/ideal?

The final selection involved choosing the key essential behaviors and actions to move towards the idea (blue cards). Again, participants were asked to select two (blue) cards. They organized them and whittled down their choices to a total of 20. Then, they opted to put the discussion on hold until another point after the retreat. I put up the cards on the wall under the label “The key actions and behaviors toward it.”

The positive:
• The cards were easy to use.
• The participants enjoyed the regular engagement and the unique way of thinking about collaboration.
• They participants felt safe with the process and demonstrated a high level of inclusion.

Potential challenges to using the cards:
• The very many cards did seem overwhelming to some to read within a time limit. I am not sure if individual sets would have helped given the sheer volume.
• Too much of the same dominant speakers.
• Sometimes the discussion was reminiscent of other team discussions, very detailed, high level and in-depth but without necessarily creating greater clarity or generating understanding of each other’s perspectives.

Feedback on Collaboration Explorer for CCL Labs:
• The materials available to me about the foundational theory behind CE did not really set it up comfortably for me. A brief 1 pager would be helpful.
• Create cards which can be easily stuck on the wall
• Have a tally sheet as one option to capture thoughts as well as those cards which generated discussion. Perhaps listing all the categories with the associated numbers. I made a note of the numbers and wrote the categories on the wall. This could help the tool be used with different groups like a focus group and then compiling all the results into an overall profile which can be validated at a large group meeting or through dissemination.

About Charles J. Palus & David Magellan Horth & Steadman Harrison III

Charles J. Palus & David Magellan Horth are Senior Fellows at the Center for Creative Leadership. Steadman Harrison III is CEO of Global Outreach International, CEO of, and Senior Associate for the Center for Creative Leadership.
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