An Emotionally Charged Workshop


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Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to a workshop about mapping emotions. Now, while this may sound a little weird, it wasn’t some new age thing; instead it was a workshop looking at how the emotional rollercoaster that many projects are can have a positive, or negative, effect on the work. By understanding how people feel during a project, useful insights can be brought to the surface.

Yet, in many organisational situations, displaying emotions can be seen as unstable, or a weakness. Would that prove the case?

The workshop was led by Ella from The Comms Lab and John from Smithery. Long story short: John has a framework for mapping projects and when demonstrating it to Ella she continually asked: how did you feel at that point?

I’ve seen John’s framework before, and it’s a very simple way of mapping how a project has gone, or more importantly might go. You can read more about this Universal Agility Map on Smithery’s blog – and even see Ella working with it – you’ll need to scroll!

Anyway… Our job was to see if emotions could be mapped against projects and, if so, how could that be useful?

It’s fair to say that those who turned up for the workshop were a fairly self-selecting bunch, the kind of people who are happy to undertake an experiment on a Thursday night for no other reason than it sounds interesting. As with any experiment, you get out what you put in, and no result is a bad one.


As you can see, the x-axis moves you towards sharing while the y-axis shifts towards improving. The two questions you are always asking then are: should the team share? or should the team improve? A team can be anything from one person to many.

Unlike many frameworks, time is not a factor here and so a linear plot is not a necessary outcome. This isn’t about measuring success (did we make it on time and within budget?) or highlighting failure or stumbling blocks (why did we spend too much and take so long?) but about seeing if things might have been different had they been improved earlier, or shared later. Or to help decide which to do.

To begin with we were split into teams of four. Each of us had five blue Artefact Cards (natch!) on which we wrote, or drew, the main milestones of our project. These were then mapped to the framework. We then each took a turn describing the project to the other team members.

So far, so simple.

Ella then tasked us with overlaying our projects with how we felt about them at each specific juncture using a minimum of five orange Artefact Cards. For me, this was harder than it sounds, which I attribute to choosing a project that is still ongoing (and possibly forever open-ended so it’s constantly returning to the ‘Team/Sketch’ corner you’ll see on John’s framework). Task accomplished, we chatted about our responses within our teams of four.

Image © Ella Saltmarshe. Used without even asking for permission because it was emailed to me and I thought it would be fine. *awaits DCMA takedown notice*

Finally, we were given a set of Artefact Plus Cards on which we were to write down any patterns or insights we could discern from the map. It was clear from our team’s map that we’d all started our projects with a mixture of excitement and apprehension; sometime around the messy middle part of everyone’s project there had been a moment of wanting to give up but feeling the need to keep going (either through a sense of shame, or because we were stubborn and liked to get things finished). Finally, there was the relief of completing things, mixed in with excitement about what was learned, what the next iteration of that project could be, or a sense of a line being drawn. Even the projects tinged with a feeling of failure were more positive than negative from an emotional point of view.

My favourite ‘mapped’ area was the Nudist Beach of Exposure – that moment when sharing could go either way. Been there more than a few times, metaphorically, you’ll be pleased to hear.

Image also © Ella Saltmarshe. Again, used without even asking for permission. 

Overall, the workshop was great fun. Yes, there are some kinks to be ironed out, but I can see this type of thinking being useful in certain circumstances. As an exercise is seeing how projects are evolving, or should evolve, the workshop was very useful. Adding emotions to this was also extremely useful, but for different reasons. John’s framework felt better for planning; Ella’s emotional mapping seemed perfect for hindsight.

Which is why, the next day I realised that it would be great for continuous personal development, which beats a traditional annual review any day of the week, a fact I shared immediately in two Tweets. So, as an experiment it definitely yielded interesting results and created more questions and hypotheses, which I suppose was the purpose of running the workshop.

I’m sure John and Ella will both blog more about this. Definitely something worth exploring, so thanks for inviting me.