Do maps influence our language and how we judge our teammates?

Take a good look at the world map below? Does it make you feel uncomfortable? Does it make you lose perspective?  Generally people feel distressed when they see this projection of the world map for the first time. Does Europe seem tiny and insignificant through this view?

Map 1: Hobo-Dyer Equal Area Projection, South Up

What about this one? What is the first thought that comes to your mind when you look at Map 2?

Map 2: Hobo Dyer Equal Area Projection, North Up

My first thought was, “Wow Africa is huge!”

Being brought up in the southern hemisphere, I have often felt that I am always most at ease when meeting others from the south. I have often queried that.  What is it about them that makes me feel so comfortable? We might come from different parts of the world entirely, Chile, South Africa, Australia and yet there is something that connects us. What could it be? Could it be related to how we were brought up viewing the world and therefore our position in this world?

Many of us were brought up with a skewed perspective of the world. I grew up in Melbourne, Australia. At school we used the traditional, “Mercator” map below. As you can see, Melbourne is at the very bottom… you need to look hard to find it.

Map 3: Mercator projection

You’ll likely recognise the projection of  map 3 above, it’s the projection used by Google and other internet map providers[1]. It was created by the navigator Gerardus Mercator in 1569 as a guide to sailors to navigate the globe. Apparently it is still extremely useful for navigation purposes. However the world is a globe and it is very hard to project a globe onto a flat piece of paper, without distorting it. On the Mercator projection, you can see that Greenland looks bigger than Australia and Africa. In fact Australia is about three times the area of Greenland and Africa about 14 times the size of Greenland.

So let’s go back to map 1.

Map 1: Hobo Dyer Equal Projection, South Up

Ah… I love this map. Look at that, Melbourne uppermost centre… now I feel on top of the world:) There seems to be so much more water with this perspective. Of course this map is also not completely accurate as no flat surface can accurately project a globe, but this map does show the correct size of the countries.

Different perspectives offer different insights. How would our image of ourselves change if we were brought up looking at maps with our country always in the centre?

And yes, south can be up…  This “north is always up” perspective of the world does not only influence our image of ourselves (and others) but it also influences our language.  “I’m heading down south, I’m heading up north”. What about the negative connotations related to the south, such as, “My computer is only one month old, and it’s already gone south.” Why is south negative? Is it because we always look at maps that depict south to be at the bottom, and the bottom of the earth is not a pleasant place to be? In the Catholic Middle Ages of course the bottom of the earth referred to hell and evil.

So what do maps have to do with High-Performing Culturally Diverse Teams? We should never underestimate how important it is when working with people of other backgrounds to take the time to look at every situation through their perspective. I realise that statement can seem banal, but the way each one of us views the world, influences the way we see ourselves and the way we perceive (and probably judge) others in relation to that. This in turn impacts the way we behave and communicate with them. Do we speak in a patronising way when we speak to a person who comes from a country that on our map view seems insignificant? Are we more confident when communicating with people whom we perceive as being similar to us according to our map view?  Is there a natural connection or bond that allows us to be ourselves and show more confidence when interacting with these people? Where we position ourselves is central to how we view others and therefore how we behave, communicate and are accepted, or not, by others.

How do you feel your view of the world has influenced your communication and image of yourself?

[1] “The Mercator Projection was originally designed for nautical navigation by keeping lines of latitude perpendicular to lines of longitude. Land areas are distorted and the distortion increases nearer the poles, making countries in very low or very high latitudes look bigger than they really are.” Source: & “Seeing Through Maps”, Wood, Kaiser and Abrahams, 2006 by ODT.

High Performing Global Teams – Three Steps to Building Trust Remotely

If trust is the glue that connects and creates a High Performing Team, and if trust is created through spontaneous “coffee-corner chit-chat” or sharing a beer or coke after work, it’s no wonder we often struggle to feel connected to our team members when working remotely.

A recent study found that although remote teams have caught up with centrally located teams in terms of brainstorming, setting goals and project management, they are still lagging when it comes to feeling connected.

Ideally, our virtual communication techniques should replicate what we do (often without much effort) in a same-office team. The three small gestures below can help you create that bond which builds trust, which in turn builds team spirit and accountability and which finally helps increases team performance.

1.    Replicate the office coffee-corner virtually

Invite a colleague for a morning coffee just to say, “Hi”. The invitation is literally for 5 minutes. It doesn’t involve talking about work, it is purely to say, “How are things?” Don’t forget to switch on the camera.

This might seem unnatural initially, but just think about what happens naturally at the coffee corner in the office. While preparing your preferred drink you see colleagues from other departments and business units and you have that quick, 3-minute chat about the weekend, about your kids, about movies or perhaps about a new running route you’ve just discovered.

What is so important about these quick exchanges? These short dialogues show who you are as a person other than just as a business colleague and they create a bond. By opening up like this, we show, and see in return, a human side to the person that we find difficult to imagine through email exchanges. We discover what we have in common and these commonalities are what help us build a relationship, build trust and therefore accountability. 

2. Virtual after-work drinks

Before Coronavirus this seemed like a far-fetched thought for many. Since we have been locked up for weeks and craving conversation, it seems more natural and it’s been great to see how many people have picked up on it. Invite your colleagues for a drink after work. You grab a beer, they grab a coke, an ice -tea, a prosecco, maybe a cappuccino depending on what time zone you are all in. Whatever the refreshment, it’s time for relaxing and talking about whatever comes to your mind and exchanging on a more personal note. This is not the 3-minute chat from above. Allow some time to give people the opportunity to open up. If you’re not a natural talker, or you have some introverts on the team who might struggle to open up, think of easy subjects to talk about that are not too personal such as travel ideas, food, national celebrations and traditions in your colleagues’ countries that you might be curious about.

3. Include ice-breakers into your weekly virtual ops meetings

When we go to a same office face-to-face meeting, usually one or two people arrive a few minutes earlier than the crowd and a short discussion starts. As each person slips into the meeting room the discussion opens up with more people adding what they have to say and each new added sentence gives us insight into the person sitting in front of us. Often, these spontaneous discussions lead to creative ideas. This is a an element that is often missing in team conference calls. When we join conference calls where one person is sitting in Kuala Lumpur, one in Sydney and a third and fourth in Zurich and Stockholm, we don’t take the time to break the ice this way. We log-into the meeting one minute before it starts, the host welcomes everyone and the meeting begins.

If you’re running a virtual team meeting find some 3-4 minute icebreakers you can use. Make them short and fun. They can be as personal or impersonal as you feel is appropriate for the team. For example, ask each team member to send a photo of themselves when they were 5 years old. The others have to guess who it is. Or everyone uploads their favourite film /book/football player/pair of shoes and you need to guess which object belongs to which team member.

Always remember to switch on your camera in these sessions and find a way to convince the others to do so too. It is extraordinary how a smile can help interpret emotions that are usually very dfficult to read over the phone or through email. The visual aid helps us read between the lines when communicating with people who don’t normally say exactly what they think.

These easy to apply communication techniques help us create a connection with our colleagues, which allows us to bond and thereby create trust. Without trust and without accountability team spirit crumbles and when it does, your goals slowly become unattainable.