Decreasing mental distance with Personal Maps

Personal Maps Group Session

The British theoretical physics and cosmology Stephen Hawking, one of the most consecrated scientists today, affirms that the twenty-first century is the century of complexity and he advices us to embrace it.

Based on this theory, Jurgen Appelo author of books like “How to Change the World” and “Management 3.0”, presents a set of games, tools, and practices in his books “#Workout” and “Managing for Happiness” that encourages us to face this challenge introducing a realistic approach to leading, managing, and growing Agile teams or organizations.

Jurgen affirms that management is primarily about people and relationships and he recognizes that some practices like MBWA (Management by Walking Around), often presented under the Japanese name gemba or genchi genbutsu (go and see), can be the first step to improve relationships. He suggests improving the MBWA to “being where the work happens” by MBSA (Management by Sitting Around) or Management by “Skyping” Around to remote teams, what he considers to be the best management decision he has ever made. He explains that the consequence of moving around and paying attention to what others are doing is not only to improve communication, is to improve behavior and better performance.

The author also believes that people should get closer to the work that is important to them and the best approach to understanding a person depends a lot on that person’s preferences. And he remembers that what works for one may not work with others.

One of the tools that I usually use to decrease mental distance between teammates is the Personal Maps. Mind mapping is a simple but powerful technique that allows anyone to visualize the relationship between concepts. A personal map is a mind map that emphasizes people’s information, like home, education, work, hobbies, family, friends, values, goals… as showed in the image below.

Image of a Personal Map by Jurgen Appelo
By creating a personal map of a colleague, you make an effort to better understand that person.

On my last experience with this technique, I invited all team members of a project to test how well they knew each other and to present a new hire that had just joined us.

As the first step, I explained them the importance of knowing more about themselves. I presented the personal map theory and I drew my own map on a whiteboard as an example. After that, I challenged the group to draw a personal map of a teammate, and we agreed who would draw the map of who. The only exception was to the new hire that drew her own personal map to present herself to others.

After fifteen minutes we started the presentations. The drawer talked about all known information from his colleague while his teammate validated them and completed some unknown gaps. And we continued until everyone had spoken. Last but not least, the new hire presented herself. The meeting lasted one hour and fifteen minutes and we had a very special moment together.

However, we hadn’t finished it yet. Following, I threw a new challenge to the team. I suggested that each member created his own personal map in a week and the most creative would win a chocolate box. The only restriction was that the maximum size of the map should be an A4 paper size and they should do it without showing to others. From there on, they should deposit their maps in an envelope on my desk and wait for our next meeting.

A week later, the expected day arrived. To explain by doing how the maps should be presented, I caught one from the envelope without showing to others and read some tips until they guessed who was the owner of the map. Thenceforth, I read the rest of the information and showed the map to the group. And we continued until all maps were shown and a special guest decided who made the most creative work. And here are some maps created on that occasion:

Inhayan Nunes
Tadeu Marinho
Manuela Barbosa
Thomaz Cortez

And that day I learned a very important lesson, never challenge a designer. :P

Verônica Oliveira

Fortunately, I bought two chocolate boxes and we had enough for all. \o/

Thanks guys for all these moments and by allowing me to be a different kind of manager. Without your contribution, none of this would be possible. I’m very proud to be part of this team. :D

Wow, I’m very happy to be tweeted by Jurgen Appelo :D