When my big team of almost 20 people split into two, I got to manage one of the newly formed smaller teams. It was a truly mixed bag of people – some were seasoned senior employees and knew each other very well, and about half of them were newcomers we had on-boarded in the past couple of months. There was even a girl relocating from Malaysia to Bulgaria, bringing in a whole different culture and perspective on things.
I’ve always believed in cognitive diversity is a major factor for a team’s successful growth and its resilience during hardships. I was quite happy with how my new team turned out – lots of different mental models, and ways of approaching challenges. But to really “jell” and bond my team, I needed a way to get everyone to get to know each other better, as friends, as opposed to just colleagues. I needed ways to foster emotional relationships and connections. Moreover, this new girl had no relatives or friends locally, and it was quite important to greet her with the warmest welcome possible and give her an “emotional kickstart” within our small community.
It was obvious that it’s the right moment to put Jurgen Appelo’s Personal Mind Maps practice to the test. So, I asked everyone to create a personal mind map that could be understood and presented by any other member of the team. I kept it lean and let everyone use their creativity – no hard rules on what exactly they should include. Everyone could create her or his mind map however they felt is most appropriate and most descriptive of their personalities. I sent some varied samples I had found online just to get everyone started. There was just a size limitation to fit within an A4 sheet of paper to keep things under control and not have someone eventually show up with a billboard.
Then I just had to wait. And I got myself working on my mind map during a weekend when I felt like drawing.
After a little while, I received all the maps. It took a few weeks but the waiting did pay off – each mind map was unique, funny, colorful, interesting, and carried a bit of the personality of its creator. Some didn’t even look like mind-maps – they were the works of truly creative artists. I couldn’t help but appreciate and marvel at how diverse and wonderful everyone is. I’m even smiling as I write this, so their maps were THAT cool.
*Keep in mind this happened way before Covid-19 was a thing. Still, I think it’s very doable in an online setting.
During our new girl’s first week we did a welcoming night out at a local restaurant. I decided to seize the opportunity because the setting would be as informal as possible. At a time when spirits were high, I took the maps out of my backpack. Then we went over them. Each was read by a different person from the team while others had to guess whose’s map was it. People marveled at others’ artistic talent, laughed at some funny bits, found coincidences, and asked additional questions.
What didn’t work that well was that the place was a bit noisy, so it was harder to hear from all ends of the table at times. Apart from that, the event went quite well and emotion and good feelings were in the air the entire time. So a more informal setting is worth it, just make sure it’s not too noisy.
Spreading the word
On the next day, with permission from team members, I took a photo of each mind map and shared it with other teams. Then, we had all the original maps put on a column in the office. It turned into a place where everyone can stop and take a look at our creations.
Our new girl was flattered by this welcome. We got to know her better, we gave her some clues she could use right away to start building her relationships. Us – “old dogs” also had learned some new things about each other that we didn’t even suspect before that session.
As of this moment, our newcomer integrated quite well and made valuable connections with everyone. But I’m sure that doing the personal mind-maps exercise had a positive impact on everyone involved.
I’ll be happy to learn about your experiments and experience with this and other Management 3.0 techniques. Please feel free to share!