Mapping Human Relationships

In our Mastering Projects Workshop, we've employed several different techniques for side-stepping the usual urge to jump right into task definition and requirements discovery, under the belief that projects are usually better served by understanding their present context first, before they start describing their future or the path there in any detail.

One technique involves creating a portrait of the proposed project from each participant's perspective. Each is given a blank sheet of flip-chart paper and a selection of colored pens. The facilitator starts by asking everyone to, "Place yourself." By which s/he means, create some symbol to represent yourself and place that symbol somewhere on the sheet. Next, people are instructed to place "others," which means those others who seem germane to the context each is representing. The positioning, size, etc. represents relationship, perspective, ... many things.

Next, people are directed to list three adjectives that best describe the scene: i.e., hungry, happy, mystified. Next, people are asked to list three adverbs that best belong in the picture: i.e., extreme, sideways, quickly. Finally, people are invited to list three phrases anyone visiting this scene might expect to hear coming over the tops of the cubicle walls- or in the hallways between meetings - or around the water-cooler.

Finally, everyone is invited to sign their masterwork and post it in the appropriate place on the wall.

This exercise is very introspective until the last step, where we conduct an art gallery. Each artist is invited to explain their masterwork while the rest of the participants watch, listen, ask questions, and absorb.

By the end, whatever notion anyone had about how the project had to proceed has been challenged. A subtle and very powerful internal map of the territory emerges from this experience. Shared yet unspeakable. Understood, yet not physically projectable. We each leave with a deeper sense of knowing each other and the space we all share.

(This topic will be continued in a couple of future posts.)

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