Liberating Structures are 33 microstructures that allow you to unleash and involve everyone in a group – from extroverted to introverted and from leaders to followers. In this series of posts, we show how Liberating Structures can be used to spice up your Scrum Events. Move away from the stickies and the whiteboards for a moment, and explore these novel facilitation techniques. If you’d like to experience Liberating Structures first-hand, make sure to join one the ‘immersion workshops’ that are taking place in March 2018.
If we attend a training or meetup with people we don’t know yet, we consider the traditional clockwise introduction round to be the worst part. It makes us nervous, causes sweaty hands and raises our heartbeat to unhealthy proportions. Although we might seem to be listening to other people introducing themselves; we’re not (sorry!). Although we pretend to be listening, all we’re really doing is prepare our own story. But when it’s finally our turn, we tend to start blushing and mumble something about family, hobbies and job that no one understands…
So when we started providing training and meetups, we promised ourselves to never ever do these kind of introductions. We have a whole battery of introduction games under our belt now, with Impromptu Networking as one of the favorites for its sheer simplicity but awesome power.
Impromptu Networking allows a group of any size to form personal connections and share ideas in less than 20 minutes. It invites everyone to participate from the very start and share stories, challenges or experiences with each other. Not only is it a good way to ‘break the ice’, it also doubles as a clever way to use the collective brainpower of the group to rapidly identify patterns.
In this article we'll share examples of how we've applied this structure within our Scrum training and coaching engagements.
Uses in Scrum and workshops
We’ve used Impromptu Networking for a number of applications in (and outside) Scrum:
- As part of a training, as an introduction exercise. Ask the participants to form pairs and share their learning goals with each other. After doing 3 rounds of 3 minutes we collect of the learning goals and connect them to the agenda;
- During a seminar with 250 (!) people. We asked the group to share the number #1 challenge of a Scrum Master. After doing several rounds we invited a few people to explain the patterns they noticed while doing this exercise. People felt energized and engaged from the start, even within such a large group;
- Doing a Retrospective with Scrum Masters. Within this organisation Scrum was introduced a year ago. Although they achieved some success, there was still a lot to improve. The goal of this Retrospective was to define the most important improvements. We used Impromptu Networking to set the tone by using “hope and despair” questions (Fisher Qua coined this one). As a Scrum Master, what causes despair and what gives you hope? It resulted in a Retrospective in which difficult topics were addressed and important improvements defined;
- As a warming-up exercise during the Sprint Review. A couple of months ago we facilitated a Sprint Review with a large group of participants. It consisted of several Scrum Teams and about 25 stakeholders. We used Impromptu Networking as an icebreaker exercise and offered them the questions “if the product was a living, talking entity, what would it say right now? What secrets would you be worried that it might tell? What would you want it to say?”. The result was a very fun start of the Sprint Review that offered some valuable insights as well;
- As an icebreaker exercise for the Sprint Retrospective. We recently used it during the Sprint Retrospective by offering the questions “if you could invite a special guest to the Retrospective who would you invite?” and “how could you make the next Sprint dramatically worse than the one you have just had?”. Of course these questions are simply an example, yet the exercise will definitely kickstart your Retrospective!
Steps to use this Liberating Structure
- Invite the participants to stand up and form pairs (and a group of three if you have an uneven number);
- Present a question for the pairs to answer, e.g. “What is your hope and what is your despair?”, “What do you bring to this meeting? And what do you hope to take from it?” or something else that relates to the theme;
- Within the pairs, ask people to share their answer to the question (4 minutes, 2 minutes per person is usually enough);
- Signal the end of the first round and have people from new pairs;
- Within the new pairs, ask people to (again) share their answer. But also ask them to pay attention to similarities and differences from their previous conversation;
- Do one more round;
- After the 3 rounds, gather insights and patterns that the participants noticed;
A key characteristic of Liberating Structures is that they can easily combined to create programs for entire workshops or training. The options are endless:
- Link to Social Network Webbing to help people see connections and “black holes”;
- Invite participants to make a simple plan to follow up via 15% Solutions;
- Try a lively variation called Liquid Courage. Invite each person, in their pair, to finish these open sentences in 1 minute or less: If only…. They make me… I have to… … that’s just the way it is. If they would ____ then I could ______!
- We prefer to do this Liberating Structure standing, with people walking around the room to form pairs. This is not required. Walking around is a great energizer, though;
- You can take the group outside of the meeting room for a bit of fresh air and a different environment;
- Use bells (e.g. tingsha) to help you shift participants from first, to second, to third rounds;
- Ask questions that are open-ended but not too broad or difficult;
- Don’t skimp on the rounds. They are short anyways. The power of this format lies in the three conversations that people will be having, and what they learn from that;
- We found that 4 minutes per round is usually enough. But if the conversations die down before that, don’t wait until the timebox expires but start a new round. This keeps the energy up. We often decrease the timebox per round (4, 3, 2 minutes);
- Write down the question(s) on a flip chart as a reminder.
In this article we’ve shared examples of how we've applied this Impromptu Networking within our Scrum training and coaching engagements. We’re always happy to hear your experiences or hear your suggestions. If you’d like to know more about Liberating Structures or experience a large number of them first-hand, sign-up for one of the Liberating Structures ‘immersion workshops’ that are taking place throughout Europe in March 2018. Barry Overeem & Christiaan Verwijs are organizing the workshop in Amsterdam, which will be facilitated by co-inventor Keith McCandless and pioneer Fisher Qua.