Visual templates improve group work

This year, I noticed that visual templates help group work, and solve three key problems.

  1. Time pressure: We have to maximize the time together, because sometimes the hardest part is to get the right people in the room.
  2. Keeping people engaged: Good conversation is all about the question.
  3. And sharing insights: a comprehensive stand-up-and-report out format gets tiring fast – let’s capture more information visually to build on the knowledge in the room.

Pair visual templates with graphic recording

Visual templates pair perfectly with graphic recording. If you don’t have a graphic recorder, you can still use templates. You’ll still have an easy way to share information right after the meeting. It’s visual, it’s easy, and you’ll help facilitate at the tables with a fun, and focussed, approach.

Efficiency under time pressure

We only had less than one hour to articulate a vision for post-surgical care, with about 80 people, for the Doctors of BC.

The design solution: the facilitation team and I refined the right questions ahead of time, and I illustrated these oversized placemats. We handed them out to groups during the session, and they got to work right away, because the templates showed them what area needed to be done in sequence. After about 45 minutes, a member of their team brought 2-3 key insights on post-it notes over to my graphic recording area. I transferred their notes to my graphic recording, using the exact same layout (not pictured here). By copying the same layout in my graphic recording, it was easy for participants to see what ideas were in common and what were outliers. The report out was fast and painless, and gave the core leadership direction for next steps. Visual templates laid a strong foundation for us.

visual template for group work - graphic recording in health care


 keeping engagement high

CUPE National held a bilingual session about human rights at their 2015 national conference. The session was in the evening with presentations, videos and performances, and then small group work with the assembled delegates/human rights activists. Because they didn’t yet know each other at the tables, templates made a great design solution. The facilitation team and I came up with questions that reflected the presentations, and launched into the future with personal commitments. This balance of questions kept engagement high and people talking. (It’s nice to use art to talk about activism, too!) This session still needed a stand-up and report-back format with microphones at the end due to the size, and I drew their ideas into my graphic recording. This meant the report out at the microphone gave us a high-level summary, and we also had the detailed group ideas on the visual templates.


photo josh berson


Sharing Insights

drawing change visual template for group work youth4Leaders

At Youth4Leaders in Williams Lake, the group work was an opportunity for youth to say what they wanted! The Summit was a high energy day full of inspiring speakers, cultural presentations, and youth voices. For this part, we created visual templates to help youth identify their personal inner gifts, what gifts they had to offer community, and other questions. The visual templates were printed on individual letter sized pages, and giant flip chart sized paper.

Everyone at the table was given pens. I noticed the large template size meant that each youth had a physical space to write – it helped to democratize participation and more than one table added their own drawings. In the two photos below you’ll see the youth at work. I coloured in a template of my own, so when we shared ideas in the room it was easy to listen and place the text into the right areas. (For the non-drawing facilitators out there, this is perfect for you!)

Stan Wesley at Youth4Leaders with graphic recording
MC Stan Wesley


visual template for youth4leaders session

Sharing insights #2: Open Space / UnConference

The joy of Open Space technology or UnConferences is that everyone gets to have the conversation they want to have – and people are curious about what others said.

Design solution: use a simple, legal/tabloid sized handout to capture one or two key ideas.

Then, pick the best way to showcase the sheets. You can digitize the handouts on twitter/online so others can read the notes, put them into a report, or give them to a graphic recorder to draw up.


After their conversations, the groups brought me these small sheets. Then I drew them up into one large graphic, like this quick cel phone photo from DisruptED16. The trick with this type of harvest/capture is that you have to work very quickly.

disruptED unconference

At another UnConference/ Open Space, the group asked me to draw up a template just using an ordinary Sharpie. My favourite part was they asked for a section called “haiku”.


To answer the question, “what do you want to bring back to the whole room” – participants were asked to write a haiku (poem of 5, 7, then 5 syllables.). Why not! Why can’t a report out be fun? Instead of transcribing the haikus, I decided to create illustrations inspired by the poems and add just enough text to honour the intent.

Free download of a visual template for you

Ready to start? You can call them worksheets, visual templates, handouts – whatever works for you. I called this one a Creativity Planner and you can download it here for free. One of the fun things of my jo is that people send me photos of using it in action. I’ve seen groups use this Creativity Planner to design a marketing/communications campaign – and also artists using it to plan their next graphic novel. Tip: Just scale up the post it notes to a bigger size if you’re working with a group.

A free Creative Planning visual template for you

Here’s my challenge to you:

If you enjoy filling in templates, then the next step is to ask groups to design their own templates. Groups can decide if the template should use a metaphor, for example. Or, use them as a tool to engage before a meeting – for example, managers can ask staff to create them as a way of play with the content on a deeper level. You will be surprised at the creativity – and subsequent buy-in- that can emerge.

How do you use visual templates?

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