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  • Joshua Wilson

Try this experiment: do people feel appreciated in your organization?

Context: It’s important that people feel appreciated in any group they belong to, especially work, so this is something we measure in our comprehensive organizational assessment. But you don’t need a full assessment to learn a thing or two about how people feel. Here’s an experiment designed to help you test these waters; we call this the “work map exercise.” This one’s a bit challenging — but so worth it! Check out this Ideas post for more background.

Goal: Help your team take up an organizational design perspective on their work, and see if that perspective leads to some realization about where things can be tweaked.

Overview: Draw a Work Map with your team, and use it to collaboratively plan some activities.


  • Getting started: Tell your team you’d like to do something a little unusual: you will ask them to pause on the day-to-day work for a moment, and help you think about the way things work in or flow through your organization (or team, department, or group). Have them take a peek at different ways to represent work systems visually, such as the famous Kellogg Logic Model or Donnella Meadow’s Leverage Points.

  • Draw some pictures: Then ask them each to draw a representation of their part of the organization, as if it were part of a plumbing system, for instance. Ask them to show where work comes from, where it goes, how things get transformed along the way. Ask them to think about how information flows (or doesn’t). Ask them how energy or motivation: can they show where these are? In case they ask, be ready to tell them you have a few goals. First, you want to understand how people see work from their vantage point. Next, you want to make a collective picture that connects the various individual views into one everyone shares, and, finally, you want to use the pictures like maps—to look over the work landscape and find patterns, areas of special meaning, places things are working or not, simple tweaks you might consider making.

  • Look at the pictures: Bring your team together and look at what your team has come up with. Take turns letting everyone share their picture and listen to how they explain what they’re trying to represent. Allow reactions: let people ask questions, point out things that might be missing, or otherwise make connections.

  • Combine the pictures: Give folks a break—for an hour or two at least, if not a day—then bring them back together and charge them with combining the multiple individual representations into one big one. Drawing together can be a little tricky, so you might break into a few smaller groups and invite each to take a crack at it. The goal: to find a way to capture the many viewpoints collected in the individual pictures into one shared map that can represent all your work. Call this your “work map.”

  • Use the work map to identify some actions: Now that you have a map, take another break. Then bring people together and invite them to step back and reflect on the map. The goal is to look for patterns, realizations, bottlenecks in the flow, places information gets pooled and not shared, places the organization is vulnerable—say where only one employee knows the way a certain process is done. Anything people notice is worth capturing. Next, come up with an action or two to undertake based on what you’ve learned by drawing and reflecting on the map: if you notice, for instance, that information isn’t making it from one place in the team to another, think about what you might do about that. If you notice that two few people are tasked with a key part of the work, think about giving them more resources, and so on.

A few additional recommendations:

  • Express thanks: Towards the end of each meeting, be sure to thank your team. If they were honest, had great ideas, or shared excellent examples and suggestions, say so! This reinforces their engagement for the next meeting like this you have. If they were careful in the meeting to be respectful, thoughtful, and considerate, point that out. If they shared some things that were hard for them to say, or for you to hear, be sure to thank them.

  • Ask them how it went: We often forget to invite people to reflect on how things went. Let them know you want to have meetings like this regularly, and invite their input on how to make the next one better. Why? Because if you and your team can get used to having honest, reflective meetings like this, you’ll be able to discuss and resolve just about anything that comes up. They need to be part-owners in these conversations for them to work, so you can start to get their engagement now by inviting them to help you design the next one.

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