The World of Work Project

Maps and Pins (Team Building Activity)

The maps and pins team building activity is a simple and effective way for a group of individuals to learn more about each other. It’s particularly helpful where team members have diverse backgrounds.

Summary by The World of Work Project

World map and pins

This premise behind this team building activity is to help individuals share some of their personal history through disclosure of countries or cities that are important to them.

You don’t need to be good at drawing maps

The activity quite intimate and works well in small to medium teams (4-12) when done face to face. Variants of the activity can work fairly well as inclusion activities at much larger scales if done virtually, provided you have the appropriate technology. The activity is particularly useful for multi-cultural teams.

How the activity works

As with most activities of this nature, facilitation is recommended for the world maps and pins team building exercise. The facilitator should talk the participants through the activity before it is started to ensure everyone knows what to expect. The facilitator should also fully take part in the activity.

The facilitator should prepare for this event by drawing two maps on separate “flip-charts” or similar. One of the maps should be of whatever country you are in, and the other should be of the whole world. The maps really don’t need to be of a high quality, they just need to be recognizable.

Do you know the places that are important to those you work with?

Once all the participants are in the room, the facilitator should ask everyone to mark two places that are important to them on either map. One of the places they mark should be where they grew up. The other place should be anywhere in the world that’s important to them, for whatever reason they choose. To help distinguish the marks, it might be worth having the participants use their initials.

Once everyone has marked their places, the facilitator guides a conversation around the group and asks each participant to share the places they’ve identified with everyone else in the room, and to spend a few minutes explaining either why they have chosen them or what they’re like. The facilitator should start this process off and set the tone for the conversation by identifying and sharing the places that they have identified as important to themselves first.

The activity ends once all participants have shared the places that are important to them with the rest of the group. It may be worth saving the maps and keeping them in a team room or similar, if appropriate.

A large group alternative

Several variations of this activity can be used for much larger groups.

In a large office context it’s possible to use a physical world map as a way to show the diversity of employees, and thus to raise awareness of diversity and increase inclusion. To do this, simply place a world map on a cork-board in a public space and ask individuals to place pins in the board to represent where they come from. The populated map becomes a visual reminder of the offices diversity.

Pinned maps can be great visual reminders of diversity.

In a virtual context, it’s possible to repeat the same activity but with a virtual map in which individuals can drop virtual pins, or where they can simply write their initials. This requires a bit of technology, but can be useful in larger organizations as a diversity tool and as a conversation starter.

The World of Work Project View

This activity works well because it helps people share things that are important to them and helps them disclose their history. In teams where individuals come from a range of countries or have a range of ethnicities, this can be particularly powerful as conversations about “where you come from” are sometimes seen as inappropriate. It’s also surprising how many commonalities are discovered through the exercise.

Whoever is hosting this activity should be relaxed and informal, to help ensure everyone is at ease. Some participants may feel slightly nervous or feel that the places they associate with might be looked down on by others, so it’s important to instill a sense of inclusion and that there are no wrong answers This isn’t a competition, it’s just about getting to know each other.

We think this activity works well for most small groups, so it’s worth practicing your ability to draw a map… And remember, sometimes being bad at drawing a map can be an icebreaker in itself!

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

This post has been informed primarily by our experiences over our careers and does not reference any specific sources.

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