Personal maps – Management 3.0

Are you all professional at work? No chit-chat, no small talk, not sharing personal stuff? Well, you’re not the only one. In most projects and environments I’ve worked, there’s not much sharing of personal things, and I hear the most “coffee talk” about work-related topics. Then again, I asked about my colleague’s weekend and if anything special happened.

Frankly, do you know your colleagues, your teammates?

Are they married? Do they have children? Where do they live? These are the obvious questions. People’s behavior at work is very much influenced by their emotional state and their emotional well-being. Knowing more about your colleague might be good – even if you’re not a chatty person. A colleague’s behavior might influence the teamwork, and as a colleague, you should know in all cases what could be the cause. Connecting with colleagues emotionally, ‘team’ bonding, and talking about something relevant – besides the job is essential.

Moreover, working remotely should not be a barrier to connecting with colleagues.

So, how can I know something more about my colleagues, my team members, and even my manager? Even when they are not physically next to me?

Try personal maps.

Personal maps are a way to note and visualize information about a person. A personal map is like a mind map with info about that person. You can create personal maps of your colleagues for your reference – or, more transparently, have an exercise where each person makes their map.

Management is 5 % instruction (what you do) and 95 % communication (what your team needs.)

In a group, you can do the exercise as follows:

  • Explain the purpose and how to create a personal map
  • Allow a time slot (not too long, not too short: 10 minutes is fine) – instruct to write clearly and briefly – and people might get as creative as possible in creating a personal map!
  • Put all the personal maps on the wall.
  • Let each person take a personal map (but not their own!) (*) and introduce that person – continue till each personal map has been presented.

(*) otherwise, a person might talk forever about himself 🙂

Remember that these personal maps are not a one-time exercise. These evolve as life continues! Iterate personal maps at regular times.

personal maps

Personal maps are an excellent tool to get to know remote team members. When working with a remote team, each person presents their map – or … apply the same technique: collect all personal maps, and each team member can show their personal map! Be creative in organizing this.

Good teams don’t need physical closeness. They need mental intimacy.

Personal maps example

Alternatively, as a team member, coach, and manager, you can create personal maps of your colleagues individually to remember personal details.

Personal map example
Jurgen Appelo explaining personals maps (ACB 2016)

Why care?

Personal maps are a way to make emotional connections with your colleagues, team members, friends, and acquaintances. When you know something more about a person and what’s essential in their life – you can ask about it when relevant. You’ll see, that person will be surprised you were thinking about it – and they’ll appreciate (but may not show that appreciation). Small talk is essential. Humans are social beings: we crave connection.

Small talk is essential. Humans are social beings: we crave connection. Get to know who your colleagues are.

I’ve also used the exercise in teams when new team members arrive. In workshops or training, when you don’t know the people – it can be used as an ice-breaker, in retrospectives, as a fun exercise in between. You’ll be surprised how little you know about people, and you’ll also be surprised to discover common interests! Go on and create some personal maps!


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