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Liberators Network String #1: What Makes A Successful Team? (Virtual)

Start a new community, meetup, or initiative by investigating what makes teams successful and build psychological safety along the way

Christiaan Verwijs
Oct 26, 2020 · 10 min read

We can tell you from experience how rewarding it is to start communities. Whether it is a regional Liberator Meetup or a community in your organization, it is such a great way to give people a place where they can give and get help from peers on the challenges they face. But how do you start?

In this series, we share our most successful strings for starting meetups, initiatives, and communities. We know from experience that they work, are fun to facilitate, and put a smile on people’s faces. In other words, you can rely on these strings to get started!

You can download a free and nicely formatted PDF of this string here. You can also download other strings here.

The Purpose Of This String

When you start a meetup or local community in your organization, it is helpful to start with a good appetizer that is representative of what else people can expect. We designed this string to help you do that.

In this string, the group explores what makes teams successful. They then dig into one of their personal challenges for making teams (more) successful. At the end of the meetup, they define personal steps.

About Psychological Safety

From scientific research, we know that psychological safety is one of the most important enablers of successful groups. You want to invest in that early-on. Amy Edmondson, Professor of Leadership and Management, defines this as “as a shared belief about the consequences of interpersonal risk-taking”. In our work with teams, we’ve found that it really helps if you start with this in mind.

So on a meta-level, we designed this string to invest in psychological safety. You’ll find that each structure is essentially about personal stories rather than abstract concepts. It’s up to each participant to decide how personal they want to make it.

Flow

How To Prepare

Group Size

This string of Liberating Structures is feasible from 4 participants and onward. We’ve successfully scaled it up to 100 participants (both virtually and in-person) without significant issues.

Intended Audience

You can run this string with pretty much any audience. We’ve used it with communities of Scrum Masters, new teams, with the Dutch Liberating Structures User Group, with our Liberator Meetups, and even at a birthday party.

Virtual Delivery

Liberating Structures work well virtually. Here too, they allow you to unleash and involve everyone. What is exceptionally important, however, is that you have the right tools. Because Liberating Structures are fundamentally about breaking down large-group interactions into smaller groups, you need tools that allow you to create subchannels or breakout rooms easily. Zoom is ideal for this, but similar features are available in tools like Teams and GotoMeeting. We also recommend a virtual whiteboard where you can collect shared insights, like Mural, Miro, or Google Slides. Even Slack can work.

Material

  • Pick a date for the meetup after this one, so that you can announce it at the end
  • Optionally, The Liberators Meetup Starter Kit that patrons in the “Liberator”-tier receive for free

Resources

Step 1: Opening

Start at the scheduled time. People who drop in later can jump in then. We always start our gatherings by simply saying “Hi!”, followed by our name. We then introduce the purpose and start with the first structure. Superfast!

We’ve learned that the best way to drain energy is to talk for a long time, to ask everyone to introduce themselves or to wait for people to drop in.

Step 2: Share Success Stories With Appreciative Interviews

We’ve found that it works best if you build personal connections from what people are proud of, or have warm memories about. The Liberating Structure “Appreciative Interviews” is a great way to do this.

Invitation

“In pairs, share a story of a time where you worked with a great team. What did they do? What did you do, personally? What made their success possible?”

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In-person, “Appreciative Interviews” is always one of the most engaging structures. People just love to tell success stories and retell them again. This translates well into the virtual space.

Steps

  1. (2 min) Explain the sequence of steps upfront so that people know they will be sharing a story, listening to another story, and then re-telling the story they listened to.
  2. (2 min) Give participants a few minutes to silently bring back into memory a success story from their past, or at least the start of it.
  3. (8 min) Invite pairs into their own breakouts. In turn (4 min each), people interview each other about the success story of the other while paying attention to what made the success possible. The interviewer only asks questions (no advice, suggestions, etc.).
  4. (12 min) Invite pairs to join another pair in a new breakout. Everyone retells the story of the person they interviewed. The other three participants listen for patterns in conditions/assets that supported the success. Invite groups to capture the most salient factors in your virtual whiteboard.
  5. (4 min) When everyone is back in the main channel, collect insights from the group. Ask people to share some examples of what created the insights for them. The purpose here is not to collect everything, but mostly to spread ideas around. So don’t let this go on and on.
  6. (4 min) Ask: “What was made possible by sharing our stories in this manner?”. Invite people to silently reflect on this individually (1 minute) and then together.

Our findings

  • We often encourage people to channel a journalist that they admire or frequently read articles from in the newspaper. Frequently, this makes people ask deeper questions.

Resources

Step 3: Give & Get Help With Troika Consulting

Now that people have shared personal stories, built interpersonal trust, and identified important success factors, we will build on this by inviting everyone to identify a personal challenge that is related to one of the factors.

Troika Consulting is a very useful Liberating Structure that allows people to ask for help once while giving it twice. It is one of those structures that evokes many smiling faces and helpful suggestions.

Invitation

If you consider the success factors we identified, what is a related, adjacent or relevant personal challenge that you are facing at the moment that would make you, or your team, more successful?

Steps

  1. Explain the steps. Troika Consulting takes three rounds. Everyone will be a “Client” once, with the other two acting as “Consultants”.
  2. (1 min) Ask everyone to think of a personal challenge they’d like to get help on from their peers. It is up to participants to decide how personal they want to make it.
  3. (1 min) Invite people into breakouts of three participants each.
  4. (2 min) Round one starts with the first client sharing his or her question in more detail. Consultants ask only clarifying questions.
  5. (5 min) Ask the client to turn off their webcam and mute their microphone. Talking only to each other, the consultants generate ideas, suggestions, and coaching advice. In the meantime, the client listens and takes notes.
  6. (2 min) The client turns their webcam and microphone back on and shares what was most insightful to them.
  7. Groups switch to the next person and repeat the steps.
  8. (5 min) Debrief what the experience was like. This is a good opportunity to emphasize that you’ll offer much more of these experiences with this meetup.

Our Findings

  • Create an overview of the instructions on your virtual whiteboard. People can use this as a reference once they are in their breakouts. Let people self-manage their timeboxes. If you can, broadcast every now and then what round people should be in.
  • If the size of your group is not divisible by three, you can create one or two groups of four participants. In those groups, the extra person can give help twice but unfortunately won’t be able to get help on their challenge. Ask for volunteers (e.g. people who don’t have a clear challenge or don’t mind not getting help on their challenge now).

Resources

Step 4: Identify Personal Next Steps With 15% Solutions

We always like to end on a personal note by asking people what it is that they want to contribute to the success of this community, initiative, or meetup. No matter how small, if everyone makes one small change, together this generates large change. The Liberating Structure 15% Solutions is super useful for this.

Invitation

“What is your personal 15% Solution to help your team become more successful? What is something you can do that you do without permission from other or resources you don’t have access to?”

Steps

  1. (3 min) Ask everyone to silently generate a list of personal 15% Solutions.
  2. (5 min) Form pairs and invite each par into their own breakouts. In the breakouts, people take turns to share their 15% Solutions. We always encourage listeners to help their partner find ways to guarantee that they will actually do those things (e.g. make it smaller, simpler).

Our Findings

  • It is tempting for people to complicate their 15% Solutions, which makes it unlikely they’ll actually do them. You can encourage people by asking them “What is the thing you’re going to do to work on that [original idea]?”.
  • You can make individual 15% Solutions transparent on your virtual whiteboard. But make sure that this is optional.

Step 5: Closing

If you have the time, do a quick debrief with the group. A simple Liberating Structure for this is Impromptu Networking(“What did you observe, think or feel while participating in this meetup?”). Draw out some salient patterns from the whole group, but keep it short.

Make A Group Picture

Take a picture of the whole group (ask for permission). A great way to give energy to an otherwise static picture is to invite people to “say Hi! with a picture” to a Liberator Meetup elsewhere in the world. You can tag them in your message (e.g. “Hi to Liberators in Pittsburgh, US!” or “Hi to Liberators in Bern, Switzerland!”). You can find us on Twitter here.

Closing

Thank everyone for their presence and announce when the next meetup will take place.

After The Meetup

With this string, you should be able to pique the interest of people for more gatherings. At the same time, you’ve started creating safety between the people present here today, while also considering what makes teams successful.

Learn and Grow, Together

If you’re stuck with a design or have other questions about this design, reach out to us at info@theliberators.com or other members of the Liberators Support Group. Let’s learn and grow, together!

Help Us Improve This String

We are eager to learn from your experience of this string. You probably discovered much about the flow of the string, the use of the invitations, and the impact on the group. What did it make possible for you or your team? What unexpected surprises did you run into? What would make the string even better? Help us learn from your experience by sharing it with us. It only takes a few minutes.

Share Your Outcomes

There is bound to be plenty of learning going on in your session. If you can, please share some of those results with the wider community. We always like to share a collage of pictures (with permission) or a short video. It is a nice way to inspire people to join your meetup, or for other people to start their own in their region.

Try Our Other Strings

This string is part of our Liberator Network series. It probably triggered in-depth conversations, valuable insights, and tangible next steps.

We have many more strings for you to explore with your team, organization, or community! We offer strings to create a strategy, determine your personal impact, and to face your deepest fears! We add new strings every week.

You can find more free and premium strings about our Scrum Mythbusters series here. Or browse all our strings here. Give them a try, and unleash the superpowers of your team, organization, and community!

Unleashing Teams All Over The World

We are The Liberators — Barry Overeem and Christiaan Verwijs. Our mission is to create products to unleash the superpowers of teams all over the world. We do this together with a growing community of patrons.

Awesome content for awesome teams

We unleash teams with our blogposts, our podcasts, our newsletter, our videos, and our frequent meetups. While we offer most of this for free, we also have plenty of premium content in our webshop for you to explore.

Supported by the community

We are super proud that The Liberators are almost entirely funded by the community. If you appreciate our work too, you can already support us for 12 dollars/year by becoming a patron. In return, you gain free access to premium content, we share our work-in-progress and involve you in creating more awesome content.

The Liberators

The Liberators: Unleash The Superpowers Of Your Team

Christiaan Verwijs

Written by

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

The Liberators

The Liberators: Unleash The Superpowers Of Your Team

Christiaan Verwijs

Written by

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

The Liberators

The Liberators: Unleash The Superpowers Of Your Team

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