I have first been introduced to mind maps in 2015 while following a mind maps, speed reading, and memory training program. The mind maps were first popularized by British popular psychology author Tony Buzan in his book “Mind Map Mastery”.

First, let’s explain the Practice

The concept is very simple, A mind map is a diagram, or any other visualization, used to organize or explain information in an alternative way. The map uses a hierarchical structure, where relationships between different parts of the whole are made visible with lines. Often a map is made up of a concept or topic written in the middle of a sheet of paper or something else. Associated representations, ideas, words, and images are added to the center topic.

There is even a world memorization championship competition using mind maps.

Why using personal maps?

Jurgen Appelo used this concept differently and introduced the Personal map workshop in his excellent book “Managing for Happiness”.

Find more about personal maps right here :

“It’s not about geographical distance, it’s about mental distance” Jim McCarthy

In his video, « The future of remote work », Simon Sinek talks about how do you build trust with somebody who’s entirely new to the team and has never physically met anyone? In this video, he uses Isaac Stern quote where he said:

« Music happens between the notes… Trust happens between meetings » Simon Sinek

How do I use personal maps workshops?

Example of situations where I used this very workshop with excellent outcomes

  • As an agile coach, I use personal maps to help remote teams build trust.
  • As a servant leader for an agile community, I use personal maps to onboard new team members.
  • As a scrum trainer, I use personal maps to build connections between the attendees especially remotely.

In her book, « Training from the back of the room », Sharon L.Bowman introduces an instructional design and delivery model about the 4C’s (Connections, Concepts, Concrete Practice, and Conclusions) for designing a great piece of training. Her findings are based on the latest neuroscience discoveries on how our brain loves to learn.

Indeed, one of the most important aspects of learning is making connections with what we know, with what we will learn, and most importantly with each other. In this perspective, Personal maps are a great way for me to work through the first C which is building connections.

Practical facilitation tips for a one-hour workshop:

  1. Decide with your team which tool you’ll be using during the workshop, I use Klaxoon but other tools like Miro or even a piece of paper and pen is enough to draw a personal map and upload it to the collaboration tool of your choice.
  2. Then, I often ask the participants to put their pictures at the very center of their personal maps as this will represent the central idea. You can also start with your purpose in life in the middle of your personal map as suggested by Jurgen Appelo.
  3. Now, working toward the outer edge of a personal map, you can add ideas, pictures such as home, education, work, hobbies, family, friends, goals, and values. (10 minutes for building personal maps)
  4. Once, the personal maps are completed, every participant shoots questions at anyone in no particular order. By asking questions and trying to guess where a picture was taken, and what information was added to the other person’s personal map, participants make an effort to better understand that person. (45 min open-discussion discovery)
  5. It is recommended in this step to do not to let people present their own personal map as some people go on and talk about themselves.
  6. Finally, once every participant was asked questions on their personal maps, I ask team members to add their social media links to their personal maps (LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram).

My learnings as a facilitator

There are many ways of facilitating this workshop depending on the context. I have found that this way of doing the workshop works very well if the team is newly formed. If team members are already working together, you could find it more beneficial to ask the participants to draw the personal maps of their colleagues and not their own. This will help participants discover how much they know about each other. (As described in the original format by Jurgen Appelo)

Don’t we say that a picture is better than thousand words? well, pictures give great depth to the personal maps. Personal maps are a visual tool that helps to build connections on a personal level. Therefore, asking participants to prepare beforehand and add personal pictures for each big idea like one with their family, another with friends, a holiday picture, and a hobby one proves to be very beneficial.

Personal maps workshop is a powerful way to get to know each other inside a team and start building empathy. I highly recommend to every organization/team working remotely to give a try for personal maps workshop to their onboarding process.

The information that you could discover about your teammate could go from just knowing a piece of basic information like their age to discovering profound values that you are sharing with them. This will connect the team on a deeper level.

Please feel free to reach out to me for feedback and to exchange experiences!

Thank you all for reading, and keep people energized! 🙂