Flagging up what is really important in your meetings


_Card_Sort2Pick a card, any card … and you are immediately engaged!

There is something about playing with cards, holding them, moving them about, looking at them, that affects how we think. Maybe it has to do with the fact that we associate cards with games, and that they have a structure of rules which capture our interest, and intrigue us about the possibilities, and how things might combine to bring success.

Our ‘tool of the month’ for April, Card Sort, taps into this psychology. The structure is created by what cards exist, where you can place them, and the criteria to apply in doing so. The tensions this creates taps into a greater depth of reasoning and insight – enabling the ‘sorter’ to surface paradigms and assumptions that they didn’t realise they held, and to explore new possibilities and consequences.

The cards can be about anything: goals, systems, people, values, criteria, options, actions, … and they can be produced on paper for a physical meeting, or as tiles in a virtual whiteboard. And the board on which they are placed can be as simple as ‘Yes’/’No’ or as complex as the layout of a factory, or a grid, or a timeline, …

So how can you use such cards?

In my career as a consultant, I have used cards on many occasions, both with individuals and groups in order to:

  • draw out perceptions and conduct diagnostic interviews on culture and practices
  • prioritise items on a 2×2 grid
  • schedule a series of activities into a clear plan
  • force choices and reach consensus on a way forward
  • ensure quality of approach while maintaining ownership with others
  • clarify relationships between things

The use of such cards is only limited by our imagination, but as a start point, you could try using them wherever you would otherwise be using a list in your meeting – for example a list of questions, or options, or steps, or items, or checks.

Cards can be produced in minutes from such a list (although the perceived quality of the card is a psychological factor in how effective they are ;)) but they have huge advantages over lists. They avoid the ‘drudgery’ of step by step dialogue, and enable groups to work through things more quickly, with higher energy, greater insight, and more ownership than can be achieved by sequential discussions.

The following illustrations provide two examples of how such cards can be used in practice:

  1. Diagnostic interviews normally consist of a series of questions, not all of which are important all of the time. I have found it really useful to turn these questions into a deck of cards. Sometimes I ask the interviewees to pick out six that they most want to talk about. Sometimes, I ask them to lay them out on two axes – one representing the importance of the topic to the success of the business, and the other representing the current performance. Sometimes I ask them to group them, or split them into cause and effect. And then I encourage them to pick them up and hold them while they tell me about why they placed them as they did. The result is a far more interesting interview for all parties. The cards don’t have to be words, sometimes pictures can tap into really important things that don’t always get mentioned – they help balance purely rational responses with more emotional ones.
  2. Planning sessions can be a balancing act between ensuring the ownership of the team, and ensuring a robust and complete sequence of activities – particularly where the team may be inexperienced. Faced with this situation with a particular client, I created a set of cards representing all of the activities required to ensure success. I then split the client into three groups, and asked them to develop a forward plan. I explained that I had created some cards to get them started, but that (of course) they were welcome to bin any they felt were superfluous, and add any new ones they required. The result was that the teams used all the cards, added one or two, and came up with sequences that were easily reconciled into something they each individually felt was THEIR plan.

If you would like to understand more about using card sort in virtual meetings, come along to our free virtual training session on 2nd April.

Or if you cannot make that one, take a look at our other sessions and book yourself up for one of those.

To see an explanation of card sort in our meetings clinic, please click here.