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.