December 1, 2020

Self-Organizing Groups in Zoom

Breakout rooms in Zoom were a life-saver for many facilitators, trainers and Scrum Masters in recent months. As many of you probably already know, those breakout rooms aim to allow smaller groups to work independently. That increases engagement of each participant.

That said, until version 5.3 of Zoom, the facilitator had only two options to "assign" participants across breakout rooms. First, the facilitator could assign participants to a specific breakout room or secondly let Zoom randomize this step. Both options continue to exist and they have their place in a facilitators toolbox but with the latest version of Zoom, participants can now also self-select their breakout rooms. I have a quick 2-Minute video below. that shows the idea.

Imagine situations in Sprint Retrospectives, Product Backlog refinement or pair programming in Scrum. Or more general in Liberating Structures and Open Space in particular. How can a virtual event facilitator get out of the way and let a group self-organize? Letting Zoom or the facilitator do the assignment does not feel liberating at all. The assignment by the facilitator is also incredible slow.

Having participants self-select their breakout rooms solves this dilemma. The facilitator creates the breakout rooms just like in the past, but selects the option that participants can select their breakout room. When the rooms are "opened", the participants can select and move between breakout rooms. As the breakout rooms can be easily renamed, mapping the topics to the breakout room name, makes it very easy for participants to pick their rooms. The list of breakout rooms can become the current agenda. Especially in Open Space conferences, mapping the topics of the current time-slots to the breakout rooms allows for a great orientation for all participants. Even a butterfly lounge can be created.This new Zoom breakout room feature enables Open Space in a much more sophisticated way!

Open Space Poster

The only caveat is that the participants need to run the app version of zoom. The browser version is not yet supported, but that is something that can easily be communicated in the invitation to your event. If you are now interested to learn more about Open Space, here is a free agile poster series that makes for example the Open Space principles transparent. I also a short video of a sample Open Space introduction.