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 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.