Energizer: Appreciation Letters

Appreciation Letters are a simple visual tool developed by Nami Ishihara from the Mid-Atlantic Facilitators' Network, shared here with her express permission. Her instructions appear below. It's effective with intact teams, even those with latent conflicts. What I like about this method is that it blends methods from the practices of useless sense making (from John Ward's Kinesthetic Modeling), metaphors in images (from the Center for Creative Leadership's Visual Explorer), and absurd connection (from George M. Prince's Synectic method.)

1. In advance, prepare cards with photos of different images. The number of images should be half the number of participants, and there should be 2 cards of each image. For example, if there are 24 participants there should be 12 different images, 2 cards each. Consider images that can be open to broad interpretation, such as landscapes, food, people, animals, and famous paintings.

2. Arrange the chairs in a circle, with a table in the middle of the room. Lay the cards randomly out on the table. You can decorate the table with a tablecloth, to make it look a bit "special." As participants enter the room, ask them to choose one card that they like.

3. After everyone chooses a card, ask them to find the other person who has the same card that they do. Ask them to spend the next 10 minutes talking with that person. The conversation can be about anything, including their work and personal lives. Explain that, after the 10 minutes, they will be asked to write an Appreciation Letter addressed to the other person explaining what they appreciate about him or her. This could be something related to their contribution at work, or personal, like a special quality that they have. They should also know that they will be asked to share this letter with the group.

4. Hand out paper, pens (in different colors), and envelopes. Ask participants to take 10 minutes to write their letters in silence. It is important to enforce this silence. When they are finished, they hold on to the letter and return to their chairs.

5. When everyone has finished, ask for the first pair to volunteer to show the image that they chose in common, and share the letters. The pair stand up and face each other inside the circle. They take turns reading their letter to each other, in front of the group. Sometimes they are shy at first, but usually become more open as the activity progresses. Often, these letters are funny, and some are quite moving.

6. At the end, have a debriefing moment and ask for thoughts about the activity and what they learned from each other. This often leads to a discussion about what they have in common, how the appreciation affected them, etc. Participants are encouraged to put the letters in an envelope and give it to their partner as a gift. Depending on the size of the group, this activity takes 45 min to 1.5 hours. This works well for groups of 6 to 40.