Posted in Liberating Structures, Teaching

Training facilitation – Talk less, make more sense

As an Agile Coach helping software teams finding ways to improve their ways of working and deliver better solutions with higher quality, I have a responsibility to do exacly the same with my own services. This is a post on how I have worked with improving my training sessions.

I have conducted quite a number of training sessions in various settings. The more courses/classes I teach, the more I realise that I need to talk less. Not because I don’t have the knowledge, but because people don’t learn so well, just by hear me talking and seing a slide deck projected on the wall.

Therfore I have come to value a few principles when designing training sessions:

  • People don’t learn from listening to me, so talk less and engage them physically and verbally in the learning process.
  • I am not smarter than everybody in the room combined, so utilize the knowledge in the room.
  • I don’t know the nuances of my participants context, so let them figure out how theory applies to their context.

I have come to realise that I use these principles in all training session I conduct, regardless if it’s a fixed scope course (eg. SAFe), a session about “Agile” I designed myself, or even in dance classes.

With the last full day agile training session I developed and conducted, my aim was to enable the participants to act differently to improve their working environment towards a more agile fashion, without telling them explicit the process they must follow. With the principles mentioned above I designed a full day workshop, where I only did 3 ten minutes presentation during the day. The rest of the day was about making sense of it, and share insight within the group. Liberating structures was the tool to facilitate sensemaking and sharing.

The Learning 3.0 Flow by Alexandre Magno

Here is how the session was organised:

The session was about “Flow in Product development” and It was based on the content of Donald Reinertsen. D. Reinertsen’s work serve as basis for many (if not all) of the SAFe principles, and since my organisation were already using SAFe, this session was also about connecting and understading the theory behind these principles.


  • Presentation (10 minutes only): Showing to visualise basic concepts of flow and queues, to set the stage from an easy-to-understand and relateable context

  • Impromptu Networking – Sharing initial insight about why this is relevant for particpants and their context.

  • Presentation (10 minutes only): A brief walkthrough of the 12 problems of the current orthodoxy, which Donald Reinertsen describe in his book, “The principles of Product development flow – Second Generation Lean Product Development”
12 Problems of Current Orthodoxy By D. Reinertsen – visualised by me 🙂
  • Gallery Walk – To debrief the presentation. What confuses you the most? What do you feel strongest about? What gave you the biggest insight?

  • TRIZ – To identify the problems that participants could recognise in their own context, while having fun

  • Presentation (10 minutes only): Introducing some principles from Reinersens book. It may seem overwhelming with 175 principles, and since we were already working with SAFe, I decided to link it to the 10 SAFe Principles to make it more digestable.

  • “Make a Principle Poster”. Each group selected a SAFe principle to visualise. Poster definition of done:
    • Principle name and number in a headline
    • What problem(s), from the current orthodoxy is this principle trying to solve?
    • A drawing
    • A stement to explain how you in your role can work by this principle “As a [role/jobtitle] I will [do this action to live the principle]
Guidelines for making the posters ( Sorry for
  • Shift and share – To share insights and give feedback to posters across the group

  • 1-2-4-all – To discuss and connect principles to elements in the SAFe big picture, to build understanding of the purpose of the SAFe Process

  • Eco-cycle planning (and 1-2-4-all), to assess how the organisation was currently living the SAFe principles, and to determine where improvements could be made.

  • 9 why’s – To identify and articulate why it matters to the participant to work by the SAFe Principles.

  • 15% Solutions – To help the participant identify, where and how they could act, to start improving, without getting lost in how difficult it might be.

Learning and findings

  • It worked extremely well to have only 3×10 minutes presentations for the whole day
  • People were engaged and energised during the whole session.
  • Laying the eco-cycle on the floor, created an awesome group dynamic. Note: Make sure the items are color coded in a way that makes it easy to get an overview from the distance, without having to read.
  • To save time during the workshop I experimented with people giving feedback on sticky-notes during the Shift&Share of posters. This didn’t work as intended, and felt akward and useless, since there was no time to follow up on that feedback. Instead the groups just presented a few posters in the large group, with feedback from the large crowd. This worked better, but didn’t engage everybody as intented.
  • The Gallery Walk resulted in quite a lot of people being alone on one of the 12 stations, leaving them with no-one to talk to, about the pormpts. Instead groups of 3 were formed and the prompts discussed in those groups. That worked quite well, keeping everybody engaged.
  • The 15% solution really made actions tangible. One participants expressed it this way: “I was about to leave the room with no hope, because the task to fix these challenges seems so overwhelming, and will involve the whole business. But the 15% solutions gave me insight, that I can start acting differently, to influence others. I leave now, full with energy, and determined to execute my self-defined action”
Posted in Team Dynamics, Working Agile

What a shared purpose can do to your teams

I have often heard managers expressing:

  • I encourage the team to take the responsibility
  • I need you to collaborate with other team

Only to hear the same manager complaining about why it doesn’t happen. Why is that? I mean, the Manager just expressed what they wanted.

There can be many reasons for this. One of them is most likely, that teams are not used to having the responsibility and managers are not used to giving away the responsibility. If managers suddenly give responsibility, it will be awkward, because no one knows how to act. I have seen this situation too many times, which will eventually result in managers taking back the responsibility. “If the team would just take the responsibility as I do, the problems would be solved. But they don’t, and that’s why I have to do it myself.”

The interesting perspective is not who has the blame, the interesting stuff lies in The interesting perspective is not who has the blame, the interesting stuff lies in discovering why this situation happens in the first place. If we understand and truly believe that everyone are doing the best job they can, given the knowledge, skills and abilities and resources available in the situation at hand, then we can free our minds from blaming each other and start investigating the actual causes. So if both managers and teams are acting with good intentions to be more efficient, then why are we often in this situation? Let me elaborate on this using a real life example.

3 software development teams were practicing collaboration and alignment techniques, such as big room planning(Together with other teams as well). The teams were experienced in the techniques, but both managers and teams felt something was not right. Managers would like to see the teams taking more responsibility for the solution, the quality, and the collaboration needed to get done. However, the teams did not feel why all this cross team collaboration was needed, after all the work was already specified, so each team just needed to execute their part. Then, from one day to the other, the teams worked closely together, taking the initiative to coordinate and build the best possible solution to meet the objective and deliver the solution faster than anyone had hoped for. The same people with the same skills, were suddenly able to do what management had longed for.

What made the difference? The main difference was that the management did not have time to prepare. They had to involve teams early, and because of the urgency the management didn’t have the time to specify the solution in as many details as they were used to. I want to stress that this was a real urgency, like losing market opportunities if they didn’t succeed. Not the kind of urgency where a manager picks a random date, and calls it a critical deadline.

Because of this urgency the management acted differently. Instead of specifying what the team should do, they specified the objective they wanted to achieve. They explained very clearly “Why this feature/capability was important to the company and to the customers, and why it was needed fast.”

The teams then instantly started working together. The collaboration practices that did not previously make sense to the teams now made sense. They were now on the same mission, they had a shared purpose of working together, and they knew they couldn’t succeed without each other. Nobody discussed if it was important to meet up, they just met because they needed to, in order to meet the objective.

Also the teams were now making decisions about their work that previously was done by others. The time pressure didn’t allow for the traditional decision making process to take place, there wasn’t time for asking for permission, and after all the objective was clear. This resulted in people with the actual knowledge were the ones making decisions.

If we look at The surprising truth about what motivates us, we will recognize 2 out of the 3 elements that Daniel Pink defines for unlocking intrinsic motivation. The opportunity described above created room for giving the teams a shared purpose, and provided autonomy in the teams to make decisions to meet the objective.

If you are a manager or a Product Owner reading this I would recommend you to figure out how you can help your teams by setting objectives, and explain why the work they need to do is important for the customers and the company, instead of explaining the work you want to be done. Then truly trust that your teams will make the best decisions to make the best solution within the given circumstances. Doing this will help set the purpose and give autonomy to the people with the needed knowledge.

What about Mastery then? All people have a desire to get better at something. Why do one want to get better at playing an instrument? Because it is fun! When creating a (shared) purpose and when providing room for autonomy, you will also create opportunities for learning and growing together and as individuals. The desire to get better will only increase, as it will now serve a purpose!

Despite the significant improvements the organization experienced in my example, there is still lots of room for further improvement. It became nowhere near perfect. But I can’t imagine the magnitude of improvements we would see if we started to define purpose and give autonomy as a deliberate practice, instead of waiting for market opportunities to demand us to do so.

Posted in Retrospectives, Working Agile, Working as a ScrumMaster

Shorter and fewer Retrospectives, please

Previously I have asked my team my team for feedback. I was surprised that the team rated the retrospective as our least valuable scrum event. Surprised because it is the event I, as the scrum master striving to help the team improving, put the most effort into preparing and facilitating. I honestly felt that we were making progress, and in some aspects I would argue that we were. However the team was not sharing the same perception, and then my perception does not really matter.

To show the team, that I take their feedback seriously, and to help the team readjust the focus retros on what matters for them, I designed a retro, with the following agenda

  • List all recently defined actions from memory – Besides gathering a list of actions for further treatment in this retro, the ambitions was to get the thinking going, while getting an impression of which actions we had defined actually seemed important. We used the liberating structure 1-2-4-all, to generate the list.
  • Generate insights on the listed actions – The purpose was to explore the retroactions to build shared understanding of what the next step could be. I wanted to get everybody’s perspective in play, only then can we come to a truly shared understanding. We used the liberating structure What, so what, now what, for that purpose
  • Define individual actions for moving forward – The purpose was to help the team identify small and actionable steps, that could get the ball rolling. We never got to this part in the retro. The conclusions from previous step required a shift in the agenda, more on that later.

The team discovered they had a hard time remembering what actions they had decided on, which let to the conclusion that if they cannot remember the actions, they are not that important. When asking” what is a good next step, what makes sense from here?” The team conclusion was: “Let’s do fewer and shorter retros”.

This has been the conclusions in many teams, it is like a universal and natural thing to conclude. Previously I have reacted to this conclusion with an “I know better, so we’ll continue attitude” or being childish like “Ok, then facilitate it yourself”. Sometimes I even agreed to reducing frequency and length, just to see nothing changed. None of these solutions solved the problem of not getting value out of the retrospective.

The reason for the problem not being solved, should be found in the concept of single- and double-loop learning.

Double loop learning illustration form the Zombie Scrum Survival Guide –

Single-loop learning is about taking actions within the system. Double-loop learning is about challenging the system. In our case we needed to understand why we were not succeeding with our retroactions, as well as setting a base for why we even do retrospectives, before we could determine which frequency and length we should have. Addressing this, was more important than defining actions as planned. So we pivoted.

The questions that helped me bring deeper learning at this retro was the following invitation: “I will gladly change the frequency and length of the retrospective, if we are conscious about why we want to do it, and what we expect from it – not because it is the easiest way out. So in order to get that consciousness we should reflect upon, what are the reasons we don’t get value out of our retros, despite defining small actionable next steps?”

We identified the following challenges preventing us from benefitting more from the retros:

  • Obvious problems are solved during the sprint, leaving an empty space of what to talk about on retros – which is great!
  • Actions are so small that we don’t see they fit in the bigger picture.

This let us to the action, that we as a team need to define the bigger picture. What themes would we like to address on retros, in what areas would we like to improve as a team?

Our action from this retro was to retake the evidence based Scrum Team Survey to help us define the areas where we could improve as a Scrum team. The survey gave us good insight in our improvements since last time, and helped us define new areas to improve.

Because we now have a shared understanding of the bigger picture, as well as shared understanding of why we have retros and what will be discussed in those, our retrospective quality already increased – even without changing format, frequency or length.

Posted in Working as a ScrumMaster

Do I want feedback?

I often express “Please give me some feedback” in relation to my work. Actually most people I work with express this in some form. Obviously because we want to know if we are doing a good job. But when I ask for feedback, a part of me reflects “What if the feedback I will get is not what I want to hear?”. Sometimes it even prevents me from requesting the feedback or postponing it until later. I may even subconsciously ask in a specific way, that will leave no room for true feedback, but only room for stating what I want to hear. And that’s great, because it can keep me out of those awkward moments where I feel undressed in front of a crowd, because I have just realized that I have been doing something wrong for a long time.

I recently had one of these moments. I asked my team about their perceived value of our regular meetings, as well as the format of the meeting. In an anonymous survey. To my big surprise. Retrospective was the meeting that scored lowest of all, both on value and format. I must tell you that it was tough for me, who claims to be a retrospective geek, and put the most effort into preparing and facilitating the retrospective, compared to the other events.

You can imagine, it was NOT a good feeling. It hurt, and lot of thoughts went trough my head:

  • OK, I’ll just let them facilitate the retro themselves (offended like a child).
  • I’m the expert on this, I’ll just tell them and continue what I am doing.
  • What if I never share the survey results – the team might just forget about it.

I then realized that I was just making excuses to NOT take action on the feedback the team had spent their valuable time giving me. And why was that? Because it was tough! It was scary to not know were this would end? I was afraid that I might find out that the team hates everything I do!

But if I call my self a retrospective geek, and I’m a Scrum Master that works for achieving psychological safety in the team, I know I needed to take this challenge head on! I decided to be curious. I decided that this was NOT about me personally. It was about the situation.

Therefore I designed a retro to explore what prevented us from getting value out of the retro. The details about the retro, I’ll save for another post, but it was the most difficult retro. Both for me as the facilitator, but also for the team. The outcome was, that the team was able to express what they felt, and I learned new ways of how I can support the team even better going forward. Awesome.

So, when you are asking for feedback, are you truly asking for feedback, or do you just want your to hear others say that you are doing a good job? Are you avoiding the difficult situations? Or Ignoring the feedback you do get? Or in other ways miss out on opportunities to learn and grow?

Instead ask yourself “how will you approach the feedback, if it something you don’t like to hear, or makes you uncomfortable?”

Posted in Liberating Structures, Purpose-to-practice - Building a New Team

How must we organize…?

When a new team is formed we hope that it will be long lasting, and that it eventually will become high performing. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. What determines the success? Despite there are no guarantees of success, there are still things you can do to increase the likelihood of your team becoming high performing. In this blog post series, I would like to share some experiences of mine, from starting up new teams. Inspired by the Liberating Structure â€śPurpose-to-practice” I am helping the newly formed team to design five essential elements to make the team resilient and endurable. The 5 elements are Purpose, Principles, Participants, Structure and Practices. This post will cover my approach to help the team design Structure.

Taking responsibility!

Often we have heard managers saying to a team “We want you to take responsibility”, where after the manager takes the lead, controlling what the team should do. When working in an agile fashion we want to break out of this habit, and start building a culture and work environment with accountability, responsibility, empowerment, in order for teams to build the right thing, build it in the right way and building it fast.

The “top-down control” comes in many shapes and sizes and doesn’t only exist in manager/employee context. It could also be between roles eg. a Product Owner dictating what a team should do, a Scrum Master telling a team how to do it, and even Senior Developers instructing Junior Developers.

This element is the beginning of breaking these “top-down” patterns, and foster collaboration to benefit from the combined intelligence in the group. Regardless of experience this element helps team building the competence to become self-managing, as it will help team identify how to organize to distribute control instead of relying on top-down control.

Which structures and why

This session is slowly building up to the main question: “How must we organize to distribute control, instead of relaying on top-down control?”. The first parts are:

  • Help the team articulate the challenges they facing,
  • a small theory input on Scrum Roles, and how to see it in a different perspective.
  • Reminder of the team purpose (which has been identified prior to this session),

The Liberating Structure Wicked Questions is well suited for helping a team to easily identify and articulate the challenges they must confront to succeed. It also serves as a tool to “let the air out”, and make participants mentally ready to leave challenges behind and focus on constructive thinking.

To give a different perspective on how to organize, I introduce the concept of “total football” where all players in a team are defending when opponents has the ball, and all players are attacking when the team has the ball, regardless of their designated role (Defender, midfield, attacker). This is used to exemplify how to break down top-down control between scrum roles. This part is short and based on Maarten Dalmijns post “Stop talking so much about the Scrum roles“.

The last part of the introduction is simply to remind the team about their Purpose, as this is the guiding star to where the team want to go.

You can now invite for a Conversation Café with an expanded invitation, leaving a lot of handles for team members to hang their thoughts on, and to get the discussion going:

  • How must we organize to overcome [articulated challenge]. How must we organize to distribute control, instead of relying on top-down control from managers and/or team roles. How must we organize to achieve [our purpose]?
Facilitation canvas

My observations and experiences

  • You could skip the “Build up” part of this session and move directly on to answering the main question. For inexperienced teams, and newly formed teams, this question can seem very abstract and hard to grasp, for people who merely focus on solving technical problems. Adding the wicked questions, the football analogy and putting the team’s purpose statement in play, helped the team to see an (imaginary) future which they could relate to. This was helpful for the reflections and the dialogue, about how we must organize to get there.
  • The wicked question helped the team not only to identify impediment, but to express it clearly and to set the stage for taking actions ourselves, instead of waiting for others to remove the impediment.
  • The discussion took a different turn that I imagined during designing the session. I was about to interrupt and “bring it back” but I instead, I reminded myself, that whatever the output the team creates, is the right output. This made the the team own the output more. I believe they felt heard, because they could relate to the output. Since this session the team has used the output as handles for other discussions and retrospectives.
  • Originally I planned the purpose-to-practice element “Principles” to be a part of this session, but the time schedule was to tight, to let the good discussions unfold, so I decided to skip the Principles for now.

Posted in Liberating Structures, Purpose-to-practice - Building a New Team

Creating the foundation of trust

When a new team is formed we hope that it will be long lasting, and that it eventually will become high performing. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. What determines the success? Despite there are no guarantees of success, there are still things you can do to increase the likelihood of your team becoming high performing. In this blog post series, I would like to share some experiences of mine, from starting up new teams. Inspired by the Liberating Structure “Purpose-to-practice” I am helping the newly formed team to design five essential elements to make the team resilient and endurable. The 5 elements are Purpose, Principles, Participants, Structure and Practices. This post will cover my approach to help the team design Participants.

Who are we?

The original intention with the “practice” element in Purpose-to-practice is to answer the question “Who must be included in order for us to achieve our purpose?”. While this is a very important question to answer to be successful as a team, I found that getting to know your nearest teams members first, was more important. After all it doesn’t matter who we include, if we are not able to work close in the team and trust one another. Therefor this session is designed around making a safe space, where it is easier to be vulnerable

Which structures and why

Being vulnerable often proves to be difficult and even directly uncomfortable. And for some it may be hard to understand why we should have it in the first place; “Why don’t we just begin working?”. To make the importance of building trust in a new team clear, as well as setting directions for expected behavior in the session, the session is kicked off with a brief introduction to the concept of “5 Dysfunctions of a team” with emphasis on “invulnerability” being the hindrance in building trust.

From “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” by Patrick Lencioni

The Liberating Structure Impromptu Networking gives participants the opportunity to share there thoughts about a question, while building connections one-on-one. In this case it is expanded with multiple rounds to give each participant a chance to speak to everyone in the team. The Impromptu Networking is the main part of this session, evolving around the invitation:

What should your fellow team members know about you, that will make it easier to collaborate and communicate with you – work related and privately?

A debrief on the session was done with the whole team together using What, so what, now what?

Facilitation canvas

My observations and experiences

  • Letting the team know that the more they share about themselves the more trust is building, worked as a gentle push to be courageous, as well as taking good care of teammates being vulnerable.
  • Using the open question as invitation gave participants full control of what they wanted to share, thus feeling safer.
  • Being vulnerable to only one person at the time instead of a whole team, made it easier for the individuals to gently challenge their own limits.
  • The session was all about the conversations. Keeping the process very simple helped the group feel comfortable and able to focus on the content.
  • Impromptu Networking was a really good lightweight structure that enabled the group to focus on the
  • The simple process also allowed me as facilitator (yet equal part of the team) participate in the session.
  • A break after being vulnerable, and before debriefing was good to digest some of the impressions.
  • The debrief revealed that we were all insecure in some aspects. That let to the conclusion that it is OK to express insecurity and ask for help.
Posted in Liberating Structures, Purpose-to-practice - Building a New Team

Getting “done” – a key practice

When a new team is formed we hope that it will be long lasting, and that it eventually will become high performing. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. What determines the success? Despite there are no guarantees of success, there are still things you can do to increase the likelihood of your team becoming high performing. In this blog post series, I would like to share some experiences of mine, from starting up new teams. Inspired by the Liberating Structure “Purpose-to-practice” I am helping the newly formed team to design five essential elements to make the team resilient and endurable. The 5 elements are Purpose, Principles, Participants, Structure and Practices. This post will cover my approach to help the team design practice.

Practice are key for success

After all, what we do is what determines our success. Therefore designing the element of “practice” is essential for a teams chances of success. For a Scrum team that wants to harvest the benefits of Scrum, the ability to create a “Done” increment each sprint is essential. This session is specifically designed around the practice of “getting done”. First step, of getting there, is knowing what ‘done’ means, and why it matters, and this is what this session helps explore.

Which structures and why

This session is kicked of with a 1 min self reflection, just to get peoples thinking going, before jumping in to the activity.

The backbone of this session is the Definition of Done exercise made by Christiaan and Barry from The Liberators. This exercise is designed to create transparency of the consequences of not getting to a proper state of “done”. I highly recommend purchasing this exercise (No, im not sponsored. I paid for it myself), as it is also applicable for virtual teams. Specific instructions on how to facilitate is included in the package, so I’ll leave out the details here. Overall the group get a chance to have conversation around mapping typical developer activities to common steps in development process. Hereafter the group will do the same with typical unexpected problems.

I divided my group into four pairs, to give more room for the individual to talk. Each pair did their own mapping.

After the Definition of Done exercise I added the Liberating Structure Min Spec, to help the team form their first Definition of Done. This is for specifying the absolute must do’s to deliver a “Done” Increment, which also is a set of practices we rely on to achieve success.

Facilitation canvas for defining a teams practice – with a focus on “Getting done” as a Software Scrum Team

My observations and experiences

  • The short 1 min silent reflection in the beginning gave participants a chance to “arrive” and tune in to the topic. If time allows, it could be beneficial for the group to share there thoughts with each other.
  • For a non-Scrum team, it might be beneficial to design the session around a broader question, such as “What practices much be in place in order for us to achieve success?”.
  • Putting “Done” as a theme for discussions about practices, allowed me to take the Scrummaster stance of teacher to my scrum team, without being the preacher. This initiated a specific conversation on this essential practice.
  • Depending on experience, the group might need some guidance on which patterns to see from the definition of done exercise.
  • While there are many activities to take into account, for reaching a “done” state, the Min Spec, helped narrow the list in to the truly essential. The list became short enough for the team to actually take ownership for it. It is better to start with a list too short, which can be extended as the team gain experience, rather than making a complete list, which no one will look at because it is too comprehensive.
Posted in Liberating Structures, Purpose-to-practice - Building a New Team

New team, new name! How?

A name is important for creating cohesiveness in a team and for supporting the “feeling of belonging” for the individuals in the team. I have heard about teams, that use 5 minutes and then they have settled of a name. I am still to experience that in my team, but I have plenty of experience with teams struggling to agree on a name, and the process can seem to drag out forever. I have also previously tried facilitating a team to decide a name, and failing miserably.

I did challenge myself to come up with a process to help my team decide on a name they liked – within an hour, with a preference to an even shorter timebox. The challenges I needed to take into consideration were:

  • It takes time for people to come up with names they like. Not all are comfortable with brainstorming under strict time pressure.
  • People can have strong opinions about team names, especially the ones they don’t like. This can create a negative tension, that stalls the creative process.
  • A team name can be anything, actually. It is not the name that is important, as much as why the name was chosen.

The following is what I came up with, and experimented with with a team of mine.

Which structures and Why

To save time during the workshop, and to give everybody a chance to brainstorm names, I provided a Miro board where the team could post name suggestions. To ease up on the “fear of the white paper” I added questions like: “How would you like other people associate with the team?” and “If the team were an animal, what kind of animal would it be”. In this way, team members that are not creative in finding team names, could contribute, and inspire others, by answering those questions on the board. Also a few links to online team generators was added.

The actual session, was based on the Liberating Structures “1-2-4-all“, and “Shift and Share“.

The 1-2-4-all was designed in a way that it would narrow down the pool of ideas, by allowing people to remove names they didn’t like, as well as building consensus together with other team members. All individuals could vote on one name the would discard. The pairs had to agree on a name to remove and a name to keep. The foursomes should agree on up to three names, and prepare a 15 second pitch.

The “all” part of the 1-2-4-all, was replaced with the Shift and Share. The simplified shift and share was designed so groups could share their 15 second pitch to everybody. A simple dot vote help decide which name (and pitch) was the best.

My observation and experiences

  • The “open board” to give team members a chance to brainstorm names, at their own pace, whenever it fitted their workday resulted in 50+ suggestions for a new name.
  • Giving the team members a chance to remove names, removed the fear of the team picking a name that one team member could absolutely not identify with. This provided openness for other names.
  • Having pairs agreeing to discard a name and keep a name, enabled conversation and team members leaning towards each other, instead of just insisting on own ideas.
  • Asking the foursomes to prepare a pitch, enabled conversation on why a name was cool or not. Those discussions helped build consensus and understanding for names, that might not have sounded interesting in the first place.
  • The pitches was in itself a key, to this selection process. There was a clear winner, and it was all about the pitch.
  • It felt very natural to run this process right after defining our purpose. Both can fit into a 2 hour session.
  • I actually changed the type of voting in the end, to a standard dot voting (number of dots = [Number of options]/3 + 1 )

Posted in Liberating Structures, Purpose-to-practice - Building a New Team

Identifying the shared purpose of a new team

When a new team is formed we hope that it will be long lasting, and that it eventually will become high performing. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. What determines the success? Despite there are no guarantees of success, there are still things you can do to increase the likelihood of your team becoming high performing. In this blog post series, I would like to share some experiences of mine, from starting up new teams. Inspired by the Liberating Structure “Purpose-to-practice” I am helping newly formed team to design five essential elements to make the team resilient and endurable. The 5 elements are Purpose, Principles, Participants, Structure and Practices. This post will cover my approach to helping the team identify a shared purpose.

Why is it even important to have a shared purpose?

According do Daniel Pink, “Purpose” is one of the factors of “the surprising truth about what motivates us” (Autonomy and Mastery, are the two others). Motivated people achieve greater results, than demotivated people. So making the purpose of the teams work together clear to everybody is a stepping stone towards success and high performance.

Workshop Structures

The core of this session is the Liberating Structure, Nine Why’s. This structure is all about making the purpose of your work together clear, and this is exactly what we want to achieve. Many people go mentally blank when you ask them ‘What is your purpose?’ and therefore Nine Why’s is a good approach as it allows people to explore and describe their purpose in small steps. I have added a few tweaks, which is not included in the original structure, such as ‘finish the sentence “My job exists to..”‘. This helps participants sum up their discussions in to one sentence, which not only can be revealing for the individual, but it is also easier to work with as we go along.

Instead of jumping straight in to the Nine whys, you can begin the session with an Impromptu Networking. This is an excellent structure that allows people to share viewpoints on a topic, while building connections. In this particular session the impromptu networking helps people to get their thoughts going about their expectations to being in the new team as well as talking a bit with other team members one to one.

The facilitation canvas for making the purpose of the team’s work clear.

My observations and experiences

One team came up with this purpose statement:

This team exists to deliver high quality, valuable products with a great and intuitive customer experience for external and internal users, with short time to market.

While it may not be perfectly written, and it may seem trivial and even obvious for outsiders, the fact that it is based on the individual purposes, and that the team made it together, should not be underestimated. This purpose serve as a guideline for decisions making in the team. When a decision is to be made, we hold it against the purpose, and ask ourselves: “Which choice helps us achieve our purpose?”

Other findings

  • The dialogue that took place during the 9 Why’s plays an important role, in creating ownership for the purpose statement. In other words, it is not the statement itself that is the interesting part.
  • Using the Impromptu Networking, gave participants possibility to express their thoughts with their own words, which made room for being fore jumping in to a more structured process.
  • Teams like talking in pairs. It feels safer than speaking in the whole group. You actually build trust during those short intimate conversations

We also decided on a new team name during this session. I’ll reveal my approach for that in the next blog post.

Posted in Liberating Structures, Retrospectives, Working as a ScrumMaster

Liberating Structures: Design Storyboards – for planning productive meetings and workshops

Liberating Structures fundamentally changed the way I work, and they are helping me becoming successful as Scrum Master and Agile Coach. Liberating Structures are a set of patterns, that allows a group, of any size, to collaborate and self-organise around a topic, problem or challenge, by involving and unleashing the potential of each individual.

The structure Design Storyboards has proven very useful to me, when preparing meetings and workshops. Even though it is designed for a group, this structure fundamentally changed how I prepare to facilitate group gatherings.

It really helps me focus on the goal, and then select the best approach to achieve that. Without this, it is easy to fall in the trap of selecting the structure/activity first, and then missing the goal.

Answering the following questions, help me stay on track. The visual representation that comes out of it, serves as my “facilitation canvas”.

  • What is the purpose of the gathering?
  • What structures would I normally use for this session?
  • What Liberating Structures or other activities could achieve that purpose?
  • Which structure/activity is best suited to achieve the purpose?
  • What would the invitation that will trigger reflections and conversation with many perspectives look like? (See Characteristic of Powerful Invitations for Liberating Structures)
  • What should be asked to debrief if the gathering achieved the purpose?

The answers are recorded in the “storyboard”:

This example is a retrospective, evaluating my team’s newly created Definition of Done, dealing with some of the concerns the team raised: (1) we now have a Definition of Done, but we have tried that before, and it will just go on the wall and we’ll forget about it. (2) our new Definition of Done will not work with ‘backend stories’ so I can’t see how it will work. (3) To what use is our Definition of Done if we are not able to go all the way to done in each sprint?

The visual representation of the planned gathering is a great way to create shared understanding and foster fruitful conversations about what we want to achieve, when planning together with a group.

I have found it hard to use this structure together with people who did not yet discover the power of Liberating Structures or are not familiar with some Liberating Structures. So far I have been preparing on my own, presenting a design storyboard to the group, and then working from there. That is not really the intention, as my opinion will be more dominant, and makes it harder for others to contribute… Yet it is still better than what we use to do.