We Trust Who We Know (Personal Maps)

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by Nikoletta Tatár

The foundation of a great team is trust. Patrick Lencioni’s great book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, addresses this question in detail. Lack of trust is the biggest dysfunction. A team cannot mature without establishing it in the first place. But establishing trust is easier said than done. In certain teams, it could happen spontaneously, but most teams need some help from a facilitator (Scrum Master, Agile Coach, etc. ).

The Management 3.0 exercise ‘Personal Maps’ is a great asset to widen or create a personal knowledge base within a team. Team members can relate to each other more if they find out that they share common grounds, such as background, experience, or a love of cats! These morsels of information could be the starting point of future conversations, or after work activities that can have a positive effect on team spirit and collaboration.

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In recent months, I have done the Personal Maps exercise several times with my teams. I wanted to experiment with the exercise, as I had just joined the organization in January and wanted to get to know my people as quickly as possible. I hoped Personal Maps would do the trick.

How the Personal Maps exercise worked

  1. Before the Retrospective I wrote the main categories on a flipchart sheet. This acted as a reusable base from where to start each personal map. I displayed the base where everybody could easily see and have access to it.
  2. I briefly explained the exercise to the team. It’s important to be flexible, let your team come up with ideas to improve or experiment with, eg. changing the categories.
  3. I then asked for a volunteer from the team. (The volunteer can either go out of the room (as we played with one of the teams) or stay, but should not help her teammates collect information.)
  4. The aim was for the team to try to collect as much information as possible about the volunteer, and then write the information down on sticky notes. (You could make this a team effort, or each person individually writes as much as they know). I found out that the team effort produces less, but often more detailed cards. When individuals wrote down their knowledge, we identified our shared knowledge.)
  5. We posted the sticky notes to their respective categories. This can be done by team members or the facilitator.
  6. We then asked the volunteer to come back into the room and I, as facilitator, read out the information we had posted on the sticky notes.
  7. Our volunteers got to comment on our knowledge and share additional information that we didn’t know about them.

I wanted to create a reusable base because I intended to do Personal Maps with most of the team members as part of our Retrospective meetings. I used the recommended categories. These were: education, home, goals, values, friends, family, hobbies and work.

The method I used was just a guideline, I don’t think we’ll ever run the exercise twice in the same way. Every person and every team is different, so there will always be modifications necessary. We let the exercise evolve as we got more familiar with it. The only ‘rule’ we kept was to have fun. 🙂

Our Personal Maps Experience

It is no surprise that there is a connection in the level of knowledge and the time we spend working together. A person who had been a team member for just six months had about 20 stickies, while another colleague who has been working in the team for over a year had more than twice as many, about 46 stickies in total.

It seems that having an extroverted or introverted personality does not count as much as time. Extroverts shared about the same amount on the same topics. In every team, there is someone who is the information hub and knows almost everything about everyone.

Then there were topics that seem never to be discussed among coworkers here. The biggest grey area was goals. And it was surprising to see that people rarely talk about school or academia, which I thought to be a lightweight and somewhat work related topic.

It was interesting to see that the team members did not want to leave out topics, or admit that they were missing information on each other. This generated a lot of funny cards to fill in the blanks, like “Shopping Queen” as hobby, “She went to school” in education, or “Arrive to work before 9 am” in goals.

Interesting tidbits we learned about each other

  • One of our testers studied to be a veterinarian before her life changed course and she started testing software.
  • One team member has Siamese fighting fish, who spawned two weeks ago.
  • One guy created controversy in the team as he had: ” Has good humor” and “Tells bad jokes” next to each other. We had a really good laugh about this one.

The teams loved the exercise and my idea was to use Personal Maps to focus on one person per Retrospective. In just two months, we drew the Personal Map of almost every team member. They were really interested to see how much their peers knew about them and looked forward to being the volunteer.

We learned a lot about each other and had great fun during the exercise. I highly recommend this exercise and think that this experience will improve trust and team collaboration in the long run.

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3 thoughts on "We Trust Who We Know (Personal Maps)"

  • Rose says:

    That’s a great exercise!
    I usually find it difficult to get to know people especially in the beginning. I’m an introvert by nature, and probably due to my upbringing. I can really see how this helps us learn about the members of a group and possibly give us things we have in common to talk about.
    Thanks for posting this. I’ll be using it.

  • Nikoletta says:

    Thank you, Rose! My introverted team members loved the exercise. 🙂 I would be delighted if you shared your experience after trying it. Have a nice day!

  • Chris says:

    Hi Niki,
    I tried this with one of my teams and it seemed to go over pretty well. I introduced the whole activity by asking the team if they trusted me? Got the whole range of answers 🙂 Then I asked who they DO trust? Family, friends, mathematics. Then I asked if they trust strangers? They concluded no way, because we don’t know them! Well, that took care of that. I briefly mentioned Lencioni’s book and how trust is the foundation and had the team’s buy in. Will ask next time if someone would like to volunteer for another personal map. Thanks for the idea!

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