Do you have a coworker who loves grabbing a whiteboard and marker while explaining their thoughts? Or maybe you’re the one who can’t exit a meeting room without leaving a whiteboard full of notes and visual breakdowns behind.

That tendency is a great start for conducting a proper mind-mapping exercise with your team, one that has a bit more structure than spontaneous mid-meeting scribbles but similar goals.

What is mind-mapping and why is it useful?

Simply put, a mind map is a visual way to organize information. Whether you’re drawing a diagram or flowchart to illustrate tasks and processes or listing nonlinear ideas around a central concept, it’s a tool that allows you to think more clearly and represent concepts in a graphical way. And it’s great for brainstorms.

The goal of a mind map is to explore and document possible solutions to a problem, situation, issue, or goal, according to marketing consultant Paul Hebert, who conducts mind-mapping sessions with clients and has also created proprietary tools to assist with the process.

Important mind-mapping principles

If you want to start embracing mind-mapping with your team, there are a few principles to keep in mind before getting started. Hebert says that the following elements are key to a successful mind-map:

  • There is no right answer. This is about discovery, not validation.
  • Great facilitation is mission-critical. Done incorrectly, your mind-mapping may simply be documenting one person’s point of view – whoever was loudest or most vocal.
  • Follow-up is critical. Mind-mapping is only one step in a much larger process. It is for identification and prioritization. There is no sense in doing the mind-mapping exercise if you don’t plan on following up.

Tips for successfully mind-mapping with your team

He also shared a few practical tips to use mind-mapping to your advantage as a team. Do it right and you’ll be in love with the concept. Wing it and you may end up hating it or not experiencing any benefits.

1. Do your pre-work

First, you need to do your pre-work. It should include the following steps, says Hebert:

  • Problem definition
  • Mapping expectations
  • Outcome expectations
  • The participants’ role in the meeting
  • Rules of engagement during the event
  • Individual brainstorming prior to the full meeting

“Pre-work ensures the time spent as a group is efficient. It also allows many of those who would not normally speak out to have a chance to put ideas into the mix. It allows introverts and extroverts to provide value without stifling either [personality type],” he adds.

2. Take your time

Taking your time is also critical. Don’t try to squeeze a mind map during a regular 60-minute time slot, warns Hebert. Depending on the scope and importance of the exercise, allow a minimum of four hours and possibly consider splitting it over two days. For example, you can do part one in the afternoon, part two the next morning, and host a team dinner in between.

“Taking the appropriate time allows for emergent ideas. Rarely is the best idea found in the first few hours. It takes exploring and questioning assumptions. That won’t happen if you try to move through this too quickly. Let things evolve, grow, be discovered.

3. Assign outcome monitors

“Make sure it is someone’s job to follow up on commitments (usually the meeting leader) – and assign an executive team member as the backup/sherpa for the follow-up person. Involve execs. Most things fall apart when execs have no skin in the game,” recommends Hebert.

“Being smart and creative isn’t a job description – getting things done is. Assigning follow-up at the beginning signals how important the task is – and assigning an exec to that process really hammers home that execution matters as much as the design and creative process.”

4. Follow a process and facilitate

On that note, following a process and having a facilitator is equally important.

“Don’t just spend an hour spitting ideas out like you’ve probably experienced in the past. A good mind-mapping event has a process with a start, middle, finish. Follow it to ensure everyone has had an opportunity to weigh in,” says Hebert, who also suggests choosing an experienced facilitator. “Don’t just grab a person who isn’t busy. If they haven’t done mind-mapping before, or been a support person for a good one, don’t have them be the leader.”

5. Include relevant stakeholders

While making sure execs are engaged in the process and have stakes matters, you also don’t want to restrict your meeting to senior stakeholders only. People who have impact and information need to be included. “Most execs have very little real idea of what goes on day-to-day. Work gets done in the white spaces between jobs and execs rarely see the real work.”

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