Clearly express essential needs across groups with “What I Need From You”

Christiaan Verwijs
The Liberators
Published in
4 min readOct 5, 2018

Liberating Structures are a collection of interaction patterns 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 with Scrum.

Clearly expressing what we need from others to succeed isn’t something we’re very good at. Its easy to get stuck in vague requests like “We need to communicate openly” or “I need your support”. Its no wonder that the response to these needs is often equally vague, like “I will do my best” or “We’ll see”.

By cutting through corporate jargon that muddles responsibility, “What I Need From You” makes things very real for participants

The Liberating Structure “What I Need From You” (WINFY) helps groups to clearly express their needs and for others to clearly respond to those requests, sidestepping the kind of corporate jargon that often muddies such requests. We’ve found it to be an essential structure when groups of people have to work together to be successful.

This structure was created by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, inspired by Kathie Dannemiller and professor Dan Pesut.

A group of representatives from various teams and functional departments engaged in WINFY (the various represented teams and departments are surrounding the group). Note that the inner circle was a bit larger than we hoped, resulting in quite a number of needs. Try to limit to 7–9 groups.

Uses in Scrum

  • Use WINFY when starting an Agile transition. Make sure that you have all the relevant groups in the room and ask them to express what they need from other groups in the room to be successful;
  • We’ve successfully used WINFY to invite new Scrum Teams to express what they need from others (like management, sales and other teams);
  • After a critical incident, help the various involved groups to express what they need from each other in order to avoid this from happening again;
  • As part of a Retrospective with multiple teams and stakeholders;

Steps (~45 minutes)

  1. Invite people to organize into their respective teams, functional groups or departments;
  2. In relation to a shared challenge (e.g. a successful Agile transition), invite the groups to use 1–2–4-ALL to reduce their needs from other groups in the room to their essential top three. Invite them to complete this sentence and express their needs as clearly and specifically as possible: “What I need from you is ….” (15 min);
  3. Ask the groups to pick one person to act as their representative for that group. Invite the representatives to join in a circle in the middle of the room;
  4. One by one, representatives state their needs from the other groups by addressing their representatives. Either the representatives or their group takes notes of the various incoming requests, without answering, responding or discussing them (15 min);
  5. The representatives return to their groups and work together to pick their response from three options: YES, NO and WHATEVER. The latter is reserved for needs that are too vague to provide a specific answer (10 min);
  6. Invite the representatives back to the circle in the middle of the room. One by one, they respond to the requests from other group. Prevent elaboration or discussion (as this is bound to muddy up the clarity).
  7. Do a second round of WINFY if additional important needs emerge on when needs turn out to be too vague for a clear response;
A WINFY (center image in the bottom row) and its results (left image in the bottom row), taking place during a 2-day kickstart for three Scrum Teams

Combinations

  • Precede WINFY with Nine Whys to gain clarity on the purpose of the various groups. WINFY can be tied to that purpose by asking “Now, what do you need from others in this room to achieve that purpose?”.
  • Debrief WINFY with What, So What, Now What. Especially when you noticed significant tenseness in the groups;
  • Precede with TRIZ or Appreciative Interviews to identify enablers of success beforehand.

Tips

  • “What I Need From You” is all about making unambiguous requests and receiving unambiguous responses. By cutting through corporate jargon that muddles responsibility, “What I Need From You” makes things very real for participants. We’ve often experienced significant tension in the group during this structure. Without undermining the seriousness of the exercise, work to keep the atmosphere constructive, friendly and positive.
  • With new groups, or groups unfamiliar to this directness, precede WINFY with a selection of other Liberating Structures to create the necessary safety (like Appreciative Interviews or Impromptu Networking);
  • Strong facilitation is necessary for this structure to be effective. Make sure that the clarity of needs and responses it not muddied by elaboration or discussion. Cut of conversation in a friendly, but clear manner;
  • Make sure to limit the expressed needs to groups that are actually in the room. This also means that you want to bring in all the relevant groups;
  • Invite groups to use ‘Whatever’ as a response to needs that are too vague. Although this may sound harsh, its a great learning experience for groups to reformulate their needs in a more clear, concise manner;
  • We’ve found it very helpful to gather the needs and their responses on a flip;

Closing

Give WINFY a try! We’re always happy to hear your experiences or your suggestions.

Interested in learning many different Liberating Structures in an intense 2-day workshop? Check out our agenda for upcoming Immersion Workshops. If you’re aiming to join, book early — they are exceptionally popular. And join the Dutch User Group to learn more about Liberating Structures.

You can already support us with $1/month. Find out more on patreon.com/liberators

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Christiaan Verwijs
The Liberators

I liberate teams & organizations from de-humanizing, ineffective ways of organizing work. Developer, organizational psychologist, scientist, and Scrum Master.

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