Your next best mind map: Tips on creating and managing mind map sessions

Teamwork is an essential aspect of any organization. Often businesses, ranging from small scale to large scale, will face complex situations and issues that can benefit from the combined effort of their various multi-functional teams and experts. But getting such different backgrounds to work together can be a complicated affair in itself.

Perspectives of different types can easily muddy the water in terms of what you’re trying to accomplish. With so many voices in the room, your goal as an effective manager and/or project leader is to ensure that each viewpoint is heard and evaluated against the rest in a fair and equitable manner.

Like many things in business, there are many efficient ways to generate and easily collate ideas amongst your team to reach a specific insight after the session. One of these methods, the “mind map” is likely something you’ve experimented with using in one or two workshops. But did you know that such a free-form tool can be used with better efficiency and effectiveness with just a few simple strategies? 

In this article, we will look at a few tips that can help you make the most out of your next mind mapping session, so that you can better leverage the functionality of this tool.

What is a Mind Map?

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s lay the foundational understanding of the mind map we are referring to. Because a mind map’s execution can vary greatly from user to user, it can be beneficial to start off with a definition that can help bring us all onto the same page.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a mind map is simply a “type of diagram (= simple plan) with lines and circles for organizing information so that it is easier to use or remember”. Put in another way, a mind map utilizes central ideas or themes to better generate related ideas as an exercise to better identify or generate new insights regarding any particular topic.

It may seem a bit abstract in execution, as you essentially focus on a largely subjective method of referenced ideas in relation to a specific topic, but the practice itself has been extremely beneficial for teams looking to better get a deeper understanding of a project, initiative, or issue that they are working on.

Benefits of Mind maps

Mind maps go beyond just abstract problem-solving as a key benefit for usage amongst teams and individuals. Ryan Ayers, a writer for Business.com, shares three main benefits that mind maps can have for the way you manage your work.

First, mind map exercises focus on our ability to learn, which can help us retain new knowledge by connecting it with our existing knowledge base. The practice of creating connections between ideas helps form important links in our brains that aids in information retention. This is partly assisted by the visual aspect of the mind map diagram itself, where our brains end up absorbing information not just in a referential way but in a visually-organized way as well.

Secondly, mind map exercises help bolster productivity amongst users. Ayers goes on to quote a research survey wherein respondents answered that they found their productivity to have improved by a margin of about 20 to 30%. This has very real benefits to the average worker, with roughly 70% of respondents in the same study claiming that the process saves them about seven hours of work and/or learning that week.

Lastly, mind mapping can help you better communicate your ideas and present them in a professional manner. Often organizational issues are complex and multi-layered, so utilizing mind mapping techniques can help you clarify how ideas are related to each other in a dynamic and visually appealing way. From project managers to marketers, you’re likely going to benefit from this tool’s ability to present ideas with better clarity as well as develop diagrams to show how certain concepts tie into strategic executions.

Tips on Improving Your Mind maps

Achieving the many benefits of mind map techniques rest solely on the user’s ability to leverage the exercise in an effective and efficient manner. Due to the inherently abstract method of developing mind maps, it can be easy for the average user to let these sessions go awry with disorganized thoughts and non-relevant concepts.

In keeping with the goal to find the most benefit out of mind maps, below are a few helpful tips for improving your mind map sessions so that you can better run a workshop at your next meeting.

Limit Your Main Ideas

The first thing you’ll want to focus on as part of your mind map exercise is to ensure that you limit the number of main ideas you have as part of your central theme. Ideally, you keep the central idea focused on a single word, phrase, or sentence that can better generate prompts from your team. Through this, you can better have a focused session on the types of related words and concepts that might arise throughout the discussion.

It’s not unheard of for mind maps to utilize more than one main idea though, as it can also be used in product comparison and alternative assessments. In these scenarios, practice limiting the main prompt concepts to roughly 2 or 3 main ideas that you can have your team focus on. Encircle these ideas as your main topic for discussion and let the words start flowing from there.

Even more so, don’t hesitate to utilize the different multimedia options at our disposal in today’s much more technologically advanced collaboration spaces. Instead of the main idea (or ideas) represented as a word or phrase, you can utilize a photo or even audio and create your mind map around these central topics.

Organize Sub-ideas into Categories

Once you have locked down the main topic of discussion with your mind map, it’s important to keep the same focus on how you begin to generate ideas in relation to that central theme. Mind maps generate lots of ideas at the start of the exercise, so be sure to jot down as many as you can from the different perspectives likely to arise from your team.

Due to the possibility of many similar ideas in your mind map, it can be beneficial to begin developing categories for ideas as you go along in the exercise. This means being an active participant through pattern recognition throughout the process. You’ll need to remain alert to any ideas that might be better represented as part of a larger group of ideas, which can help steer your team towards a collective understanding that they may share.

Conversely, it can also be helpful to begin recognizing contrasting ideas in the same mind map to better create distinctions in how your group might come to understand certain concepts. These types of responses can arise from particularly divisive topics, such as directions to take a product launch, and can help in getting a holistic overview of some of the competing ideas that your team might have regarding the project.

Dig Deeper with Elaborative Interrogation

Some central themes might have more ideas to be discussed than others. For these latter concepts, it can be challenging to get the ball rolling as related topics end up fizzling out after a few responses. A good way to expound on concepts and generate much richer ideas is to utilize a technique known as “Elaborative Interrogation”.

Michael Pressley, an educational psychologist, developed this learning technique that allowed students to better understand specific topics. It was essentially a “questioning intervention” that utilizes the simple question of “why” in regard to any statement made in relation to the understanding of a particular topic. While Pressley utilized this tactic in an effort to better memory retention with how students retained information, it can also be utilized in your mind map techniques to dig deeper into specific concepts for better development of ideas.

The theory that explains why elaborative interrogation works in a variety of cases is that it helps activate that part of our thinking process regarding any prior knowledge we may have on that topic. For example, if you ask “why” your team member chose to associate the word “fast” with a sports car, you might be able to dig deeper into the technical specifics of the car, the product’s reputation, its overall perception, and more. It’s a simple yet helpful technique that helps drive much more critical thinking regarding any particular topic and can help you get more responses for your mind map.

Encourage Lateral Thinking

In relation to the importance of driving better critical thinking regarding a given central topic, “lateral thinking” is another concept worth exploring with your team as you continue to gain insights from them. The term itself essentially means “thinking outside the box” and is meant to illustrate the kind of thinking that is related to the topic but comes in a direction not normally associated with it.

Lateral thinking itself has become such a key component of innovative teams in the workplace that the Indeed Editorial Team published an article outlining several key steps for improving lateral thinking capabilities. Originally coined by Maltese physician Edward de Bono, lateral thinking can help improve one’s thinking to tackle more complex issues and non-traditional scenarios.

In the context of the mind map, it can be extremely beneficial to begin fostering a sense of lateral thinking in order to get the best types of ideas that lead towards a much more innovative insight that you might not have initially thought about. Awareness of your understanding of the topic and your processes regarding it can be helpful in unshackling some biases you might have while presenting scenarios and alternatives can help jog thinking beyond the standard understanding of any given situation you’re currently working on.

Utilize “Parking Lots”

It’s likely that not every idea presented in a mind map will be a home run. In fact, you’re likely going to come across a lot of proposed ideas that simply don’t fit properly within the exact framing you’re looking for (especially as you start using categories in your mind maps). But even if these ideas don’t work in the current state of the mind map, it doesn’t mean they won’t have any use in a future iteration or related mind map later on.

As such, you might want to explore the usage of “parking lots” in your mind maps, which is a useful way of organizing unrelated ideas in an actual space on your document so that they can be revisited later on. This has two clear benefits in the way you collaborate with your team. First, you’re creating a resource of ideas that might not be relevant now but can help develop other ideas down the line as you move forward with related projects. Secondly, parking lots help you keep your team feeling heard in the overall mind map process, which is important in an exercise that demands consistent engagement from each member to get the best type of collaborative outcome.

Leading Your Next Mind Map Session

The tips presented above can be brought to almost any mind map session you might be having in the future and remain flexible enough to be used how you see fit. It’s very likely that not all tips will be useful in every scenario as each situation you’ll be facing when using a mind map will be highly sensitive to the specific context. Still, it can be helpful to have a starting set of tactics to make your mind map session all the more efficient and productive in the future.

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