The Liberators
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The Liberators

How to use Troika Consulting Virtually

A step-by-step guide to using this powerful Liberating Structures to give & get creative help in challenging times

Now that most of us are required to work from home, many are experimenting with Liberating Structures in a virtual space. In this turbulent time, a Liberating Structure like Troika Consulting seems especially helpful. In this structure, groups of three participants give and get creative and imaginative help on a challenge they face.

A virtual Troika Consulting meetup facilitated by Anja Ebers

In this post, we (anja ebers and Christiaan Verwijs) share our experiences and tips. Anja regularly uses virtual Troika consultations in her peer-to-peer learning with fellow Liberating Structures practitioners. While Christiaan hosted a virtual Troika Consulting with 60 participants together with Barry Overeem. By reading this post, we hope that you can use this powerful structure to give and get help in a time where creative problem-solving is a vital skill.

Tools & preparations

When using Liberating Structures virtually, our preferred tool for collaboration is Zoom. Unless you have three participants, the breakout feature of Zoom is essential to break larger groups into small groups of three. At the time of writing, tools like Skype and Microsoft Teams don’t support this essential feature for online collaboration yet.

Some pictures of the Troika Consulting meetup Christiaan Verwijs and Barry Overeem recently facilitated

We also prepared a deck of editable slides in Google Presentation. This made it easier to explain Troika Consulting, but also gave participants a reference for the steps while in their breakout rooms. We used these slides with one of the sessions done by Barry and Christiaan. In all sessions, two hosts facilitated the session. While one host focused on explaining the steps and engaging with participants, the other host configured breakout rooms and took care of the technical side.

Steps

  1. As one of the hosts; share your screen with the instructions you prepared on it. We find it helpful to share the link to the online document (Google Slides in our case) in the chat as well.
  2. Begin Troika Consulting with a few minutes of silent reflection to help people identify a personal challenge first. Encourage people to identify a challenge that is small to share in 1 minute.
  3. Begin by introducing participants to the purpose of Troika Consulting. Don’t explain the steps yet. In the meantime, the other host uses the breakout feature to create rooms and assign participants. The easiest way is to divide the total number of participants — minus the hosts — by three and create as many rooms. If the number isn’t divisible by three, one or two rooms with four participants work too. In that case, set the expectation that one of those participants will be able to offer help, but will not be able to get help (as there are three rounds).
  4. Explain that breakout rooms will be opened as a test in a moment. Give participants a few minutes to exchange names in their breakout rooms, get to know the other people in their group of three, test webcams and microphones. They should have something to do timeboxing with and to take notes on. The purpose here is to get settled and make a quick personal connection.
  5. While the groups get settled, scan the breakout rooms to see if there are issues (only two people join). People can be reassigned as part of the next step.
  6. Close the breakout rooms and return everyone to the main channel. Now is the time to explain the steps of Troika Consulting. In a physical meeting, you would do this step by step as people go through Troika. But that doesn’t work well in a virtual environment. So explain the steps and timeboxes upfront. Share the instructions in the chat so that participants have them available in their breakouts. Chats follow the journey of people through the breakout rooms and back. Once people join their rooms, any messages you type from the main channel (or other rooms) won’t reach them. As a fall-back, share the URL of your slide-deck with instructions as a reference that participants can keep open.
  7. Set the expectation that groups will be on their own for the coming 30–45 minutes as they progress through the three rounds. Let them self-manage the timeboxes and find creative solutions if they run into problems. Groups can always ask for help from one of the hosts. Also, tell people to capture notes on a piece of paper or on their laptop.
  8. While Troika Consulting is in progress, scan the rooms for problems. People may suddenly drop out. It is also possible that new people join. We’ve found that it is disruptive to assign new people to existing rooms. You can also help the groups with their timeboxing with the “Broadcast Message”-option in the pane with the breakout rooms to send messages to all rooms. We used this to indicate the round that groups should be in, instead of each individual step.
  9. Close the breakout rooms when the timebox for the three rounds expires. You can follow up with another Liberating structure — like 15% Solutions — to help people turn ideas into tangible next steps. Zoom remembers the assignment of participants to breakout rooms, so you can give people a few minutes to write down the next steps in silence, then invite them to share their solutions for a few minutes in their breakout rooms again.
The Google Presentation we use to explain the steps of Troika Consulting

Tips

  • Invest a moment to establish responsibility for time-keeping within the groups. Messages that are broadcast to the rooms are easily overlooked.
  • You can identify some participants upfront who are okay with being “Stand-ins”. You can move them into rooms where you have duos instead of groups of three. Let them mark themselves with a symbol or an asterisk in their name so that you can easily find them in the list of participants (Zoom sorts participants alphabetically).
  • A technical bug in Zoom causes chaos when you’ve reached the limit of participants (100, 300 or 500 depending on your license). When people return from their breakout rooms to the main channel, a bug allows new people to join the call in-between. When you then exceed the maximum number of participants, Zoom blocks some of the people returning from the breakout room instead. You can prevent this by locking the meeting after you’ve started (this is an option under “More” in the Participants pane).
  • The “Waiting room”-feature is a good way to control when people who join the call later can actually join. One problem is that people in the waiting room are included when Zoom automatically assigns people to breakout rooms, even though they are not actually invited to join the breakout room when it opens.

Closing words

Troika Consulting is a powerful Liberating Structures that allows people to give and get help with persistent challenges. It works especially well in times like these, where we are all faced with all sorts of challenges and worries. In this post, Anja Ebers and Christiaan Verwijs shared their learnings of using Troika Consulting with (large) virtual groups. Our hope is that by reading this post, you can have an even smoother experience and offer the opportunity to give & get help to even more people.

For more information, check out the Liberating Structure Troika Consulting. You can always ask the Liberating Structures community for help on Slack. The global Liberating Structures community is working hard to help teams, organizations, and people work together virtually. This public calendar shows some of the activities taking place. You can also participate in upcoming virtual meetups of the Dutch Liberating Structures User Group here or one of the excellent German Liberating Structures User Groups.

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

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