Using Color-coded Sticky Notes to Create Interactive Visual Aids

Last week I had an opportunity to pilot a training program for managers working with remote teams.

I didn’t just want to talk with the learners about the differences between working with teams that are centrally located versus teams that are dispersed. If this session was going to have any chance of leading to change, I wanted the differences to be so striking as to jump off the proverbial page.

One of the strategies I used to accomplish this was through the deliberate selection of colored sticky notes. 

During one activity, I wanted to illustrate how much easier it is to establish trust and rapport when everyone is together in one location and how much effort it takes to develop that rapport when you’re working across time and space.

I asked the learners to use sticky notes to jot down ideas of actions they can take that help to build trust (things like saying “hello” in the morning or going out to happy hour) as well things that can reduce the amount of trust between co-workers (things such as keeping things too professional or not responding to requests for information).

Then I asked participants to place those sticky notes in a spot on a Venn Diagram in which those actions were more prevalent (is it more prevalent when you’re all together in person, is it more prevalent when you’re dispersed, or is it equally prevalent in either scenario).

If I used traditional packs of plain, yellow sticky notes, this is what it would have looked like from afar:

Close up, you’d be able to read what everyone wrote, but it doesn’t leave much of an impression when you’re looking at it, quickly trying to pull out key trends and take-aways.

Adding a splash of color with a variety pack of sticky notes wouldn’t necessarily have made much of a difference if it was applied in a haphazard manner. In fact, it could make it a bit more confusing:

The most powerful image I could hope for my learners to create was by choosing only two colors: green for actions that built trust and pink for actions that would reduce trust.

Taking a step back to look at the flipchart, one learner remarked: “Whoa. I knew that it was easier to build trust when you’re all together in person, that just seems logical. But I never realized just how big of a difference it was. We really need to be much more intentional in the amount of effort we put in to reaching out to build our relationships with our remote staff!”

He was able to draw that conclusion with just one glance. That’s the power of an effective visual aid. Here is an image of the actual activity:

Sticky Notes

What kinds of office supplies have you used, intentionally, to create a powerful visual experience for your learners?

6 thoughts on “Using Color-coded Sticky Notes to Create Interactive Visual Aids

  1. I was asked to help a group of trainers agree on what was professional conduct and non professional conduct for the trainers in the classroom. I put a long line of tape down the middle of the floor. Each person brainstormed, on their own, 3 or 4 behaviors, that could be either professional or nonprofessional. Everyone stood up and randomly called out the behavior. If you thought it was professional you stood on one side of the line, non-professional on the other side of the line. We then had good discussions about the differences of opinions. What behaviors “crossed the line” to being non-professional? Could some behaviors be professional if done by one trainer but not the other? What did they think upper level management would think if they came into the classroom and saw these behaviors? How were they being evaluated by managers, students, other trainers? Why was this important?

  2. Nicely done, Brian, and good idea! I realize that this was an ILT – In person. Do you know of a way to do this type of exercise virtually? Our audiences are globally dispersed so we would use virtual classroom for delivery. Thanks!

    • Hi Libba – virtual delivery is an interesting challenge.It’s tougher to see sticky notes via virtual presentations.

      My initial thought was to color code a slide, but after reading my post someone mentioned that the green/pink combination is difficult for people who are colorblind. Soooo…

      My new thought for doing this virtually would be to create a 2×2 matrix on a slide with the horizontal access being “trust deposits” and “trust withdrawals”. Along the vertical axis would be “Generally in-person” and “generally dispersed teams”. Then allow participants to use the draw/write tool to fill in their thoughts (by typing on the screen) about actions that contribute to/take away from trust, and where they are more prevalent.

      This would still allow you to see if there are certain quadrants of the matrix that are more crowded… I may have to blog about this in order to include a visual of this (in case it’s difficult for you to envision what I’m talking about here).

      • Yes, good idea on the 2×2 matrix – that would work! Thanks. Always a challenge to build meaningful interactivity for virtual classroom. As a suggestion, you may want to include that type of thing in your “Managing virtually” training, if appropriate. At least for us, team meetings with geographically diverse members are not uncommon. “How do you have a virtual team meeting and get input from all team members?”

        Thanks for your tips and your blog, Brian! Always a pleasure.

      • Thanks Libba! Yes, remote employees feeling like they’re part of our meetings is a big deal. So the more they can be involved and the more interaction is designed into the meetings, the better for everyone.

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