Posted in Liberating Structures

3 lessons learned when planning a workshop with Liberating Structures

I have realized that Liberating Structures are helping me being a more successful ScrumMaster. I have written about my experienced benefits of Liberating Structures as concept, as well as links to useful resources in the first post of this series. This post is about my experiences and reflection on the planning process of a workshop with use of liberating structures. The primary reason for writing about it is for the sake of my own reflection. If you can use it as well, that’s awesome. Also, if you disagree, have questions, or if you spot room for improvement, don’t hesitate to comment.

The PO of my team, who is very visionary, wanted to shake things up in a management group that she was a part of. Some very ambitious goals were set by top management, as a part of the company strategy, and she knew that for these goals to be met, this management group would have to do something completely different from what they usually did. I instantly said “yes”, when she asked me to co-facilitate the workshop, and it paid out for me with some valuable learnings

Lesson #1 – Listen to the concerns of the group during planning

This workshop was a chance for me to spread – my newly gained knowledge of – the benefits of Liberating Structures. The PO bought into the concept of “unleashing and involving everyone” immediately, because she wanted to do something differently. We began to plan the workshop without the involvement of others, and intended to continue, so that we could ride on the high energy we had in this, without anyone stopping us. But not surprisingly some representatives from the management group wanted to have a say, and their opinion to be heard. There were a lot of opposing opinions on how to reach the ambitious company strategy goals, and the opinions were so strong that everything stood still. It was very frustrating, because it seemed like this little group would stall or prevent the ideas for this workshop to materialised.

We knew that if there were opposing opinions in this little group, this would be amplified in the big group. This led to significant changes to the workshop process to deal with those opinions ensuring they wouldn’t stand in the way for the creative process. I learned that involving parts of the group in the planning phase, resulted in a completely different workshop process, that turned out to work much better than the first plan.

Lesson #2 – Focus on the purpose before the structure

I came to the planning session with a mindset of “let’s try out Liberating Structures”, and I could easily have been blind for selecting the right structures, because I was so enthusiastic of trying things out. The PO came to the planning session with the ambition to achieve a purpose, with no idea on the process, other than it had to be different. We had some very good sessions together, with high energy and lots of ideas flying around. It was so much fun. However, we didn’t make progress until we focused on what it was that we wanted to achieve during the workshop. With a purpose in place, we could evaluate if a specific structure would help the group getting closer to achieving the purpose, and we could discuss how to tweak it. When we realized this (for some reason, I keep realizing this over and over), we decided to do it in a structured way, heavily inspired by the Design Storyboard Structure

We made a table on the white board, with the following columns

Purpose – What is it that we are trying to achieve?. Which challenge are we helping the group deal with?

Structure – Which structure will we use?

Why? – Why have we chosen this structure?

Steps and invitations – What steps are we going through? How are groups formed? What is the invitation for dialogue for each step? Time indicators!

I learned that defining the purpose, helped us to keep focus in the process of getting new ideas, and exploring opportunities.

Lesson #3 – Spend time on invitations for dialogue

With a desired achievement (purpose) defined and a Liberating Structure selected to achieve this purpose, it was time to form the questions that should trigger the needed dialogue in the group – the so-called: invitations

During the planning process of this workshop, I realized, that invitations are a key element of any Liberating structure. A bad invitation will leave the group quiet, and/or in confusion of what to do. Whereas a good invitation will foster thoughts and dialogue immediately.

Informally the PO and I established a minimum spec for the invitation: If we were presented with this question ourselves, would this inspire us to think/talk, and would the conversation triggered be in the right direction for achieving the purpose? This helped us to challenge our suggestions to invitations, and we actually ended up spending quite some time on the invitations. I learned that the time spent on invitations was really well spent!

Since Invitations are such a key element in the liberating structure, I suggest to read this article about characteristics of powerful invitations for liberating structures.

The String of structures

The idea of this workshop was to have the management group communicating differently, to spark innovation and ideas that under normal circumstances wouldn’t live long. To make this vision come true, we defined 3 achievements (purpose) which should be addressed in the workshop.

We wanted to acknowledge the everyday challenges the group faced, enabling the group to put these concerns aside, at least for the rest of the workshop.

We used Wicked Questions to address paradoxical yet complementary challenges and helping the group form this as sentences like “How can we make innovative new solutions, and at the same time maintain old solutions?”. It really helped the group to think creatively for the rest of the session, without them fearing for their viewpoint to be forgotten.

We wanted to harvest the best and most bold ideas, to spark innovation.

25/10 Crowd sourcing was a fun and engaging ways, to come up with bold ideas and rank them, for further processing

After getting all the wonderful and bold ideas we wanted to, quickly, discover and find “the next step” to making these ideas a reality.

1-2-4-all helped the group qualify and select the best actions for “the next step”. The intentions with those actions, was to give quick momentum towards the desired changed, which was not yet identified.

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