The Liberators in 2019

An overview of another amazing year!

Barry Overeem
Jan 1 · 11 min read

At the end of 2018, we created an overview of the most special engagements and adventures we’ve experienced as The Liberators in 2018. This article contains the 2019 edition. It describes our most important, special, and memorable moments. Creating this overview left us with only one conclusion:

Yet again, it was an amazing year!

January

We started the year with hosting a Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop for Scrum.org staff and trainers. Earlier in 2018, Scrum.org launched the PSM II class, which we designed by using lots of Liberating Structures. This triggered the interest of many trainers, hence the request for organizing this Immersion Workshop. Together with about 25 participants, we explored how Liberating Structures can help improve the learning experience for students.

In 2018 we kickstarted the Scrum Master Learning Journey at ANWB and KPN. These journeys featured monthly workshops and frequent Reviews and Retrospectives to share learnings and offer opportunities to give and get help. All with the purpose of growing a powerful community of Scrum Masters that drives changes together. In January, we not only hosted workshops at ANWB and KPN but also at Swisscom. Fueled by the enthusiasm of Christian Hofstetter, they kickstarted their own Scrum Master Learning Journey. We were invited to host one of their monthly gatherings.

February

We kicked-off February by attending the Scrum.org Professional Agile Leadership class designed by Ron Eringa, Ryan Ripley, and John Davis. This class helps leaders understand their role in enabling an agile transformation. Our primary focus was to learn how this class was aligned with the PSM II class.

At TomTom, we provided a workshop to explore the stances of a Scrum Master and we hosted PSM II classes at Achmea, Ordina, and Co-Learning in Belgium. From a trainer-perspective, this was a good start of the year!

March

In March, we traveled to Copenhagen to provide a Liberating Structures workshop at SimCorp. Together with Bo Bjerregaard and Maryanne Kmit, we hosted a meetup for the local Liberating Structures user group as well. During the dinner on the final evening, we explored the idea of organizing a public Immersion Workshop in Copenhagen. This most likely will become a reality in 2020!

One of this year’s key moments isn’t a training, workshop, or event. It’s an announcement we’ve made by writing the blog post “Pivoting The Liberators”. In short, we feel that there’s an unhealthy reliance on organizations on bringing in external ‘experts’ for in-house coaching, training, and consultancy. Hiring external coaches and consultants have become a highly overrated habit in order to succeed with Scrum.

Therefore, we decided to shift our focus towards public work and actively seek out, grow and contribute to public communities of practice. For example, the Liberating Structures user group and The Liberators Network. We remain doing some in-company work, but only for organizations with a purpose we believe in and who are willing to contribute to the wider community.

April

This month shows that the pivot we’ve made with The Liberators doesn’t mean we don’t do in-company work at all anymore. Swisscom is an example of an organization that takes the Scrum Master Learning Journey serious and invests in the wider community as well. They do so by sharing their experiences in blog posts and visiting organizations like KPN to learn from each other. Therefore, we happily provided an in-company PSM II class at Swisscom in Bern.

April contained a 9-hour car ride to Billund (Denmark) as well. In Billund, we visited an organization that was on the top of our bucket list. During our visit, Carsten Gronbjerg Lutzen proved to be an amazing host! He managed to sneak us into the LEGO vault, the LEGO IDEA house, and the new LEGO house. Carsten (and other colleagues) shared so many awesome details & stories it probably has built a lasting memory!

May

Somehow this month always turns out to be a crazy period of workshops & events in many different places. We started by traveling to Hamburg to visit our friends of Holisticon and helped organize a Liberating Structures user group meetup. We did this together with Saskia Vermeer-Ooms, Edgar Stormbroek, and Robert van Lieshout, a.k.a. the design team for the next Immersion Workshop. It proved to be a great team-building event!

A couple of days later, we took a flight to Boston for working at Scrum.org and providing a public PSM II class together with Ryan Ripley and Todd Miller. With 20 participants is was a fully booked class!

Back in the Netherlands, we didn’t have much time to chill, because Xebia offered us the opportunity to host another Liberating Structures user group meetup. It proved to be an excellent warming-up exercise for the large-scale Immersion Workshop that took place a week later. With 85 participants the room was packed! During this 2-day workshop, we explored about 20 Liberating Structures in total.

We finished the workshop on Wednesday, and on Thursday I already traveled to Porto (Portugal) to provide a workshop and presentation at Agile Portugal. Although engaging in such an event was intense, the enthusiasm of the organization and community provided me with sufficient energy!

June

In 2014 I participated in a workshop organized by Alexandre Magno, the author of Learning 3.0 — How Creative Workers Learn. This book proved to be one of the most influential books I’ve read so far. Inspired by his ideas, I started to change my view on how to provide training, facilitate workshops and offer consultancy.

Therefore, when Alexandre invited me to provide a public workshop at his company Emergee in Sao Paulo, I gratefully accepted this opportunity. The theme for this workshop was ‘The value of Liberating Structures for Agile Organizations’. Together with 15 participants, we explored how Liberating Structures are valuable for organizations that aim to increase their agility.

The trip to Sao Paulo got even better by attending Scrum Day Brazil. During this event, I provided a workshop to explore how Liberating Structures can be combined with Scrum. It proved to be a massive event (about 750 participants), but didn’t felt overwhelming, I at least thoroughly enjoyed engaging with the local Scrum community!

Back in the Netherlands, we did something completely different by organizing and attending a workshop about how to use your voice. Our voice is one of the most important instruments, therefore, taking good care of it is vitally important. The Vocal Arts Academy helped us practice to do’s & don’t of using our voice in a sustainable way.

We closed the month with hosting our first Professional Scrum with Kanban class. For this training, we invited Daniel Vacanti, one of the founders of Kanban. This proved to be a successful experiment. Not only was the class fully booked, the participants considered the content a tremendously valuable addition to their Scrum learning journey.

July

At the beginning of July, we provided another public PSM II class. As always, these classes contain a mixture of different nationalities. This time we welcomed people from France, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland.

A couple of days later, we remained in international atmospheres, because it was time for Scrum Day Europe. I’m not sure how many times we’ve attended this seminar, but I can recall missing an edition. Somehow the weather is always great and enables you to enjoy a couple of drinks with like-minded people before the start of the summer break.

However, this time Joshua Partogi seduced me to provide a PSM II class in Bali. Convincing me wasn’t too difficult. I explained it to myself as this being part of my steward role and therefore something I can’t refuse :) Although flying long-distances isn't something I enjoy, it was definitely worth the trip!

In July we recorded our first podcast as well: “Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing Code”. In the meantime, we’ve upgraded our gear to professional levels, so stay tuned!

August

This year, our initial idea of taking July & August fully off for vacation and R&D didn’t really work out. Besides the classes we provided in July, we also committed ourselves to co-organize the Liberating Structures European Learning Gathering in Hamburg, together with Holisticon.

The purpose of the gathering is to bring together experienced practitioners from the Liberating Structures community. It provides a space for sharing learnings, developing new initiatives and spreading Liberating Structures far and beyond. It proved to be an excellent opportunity to reflect on your own practice with Liberating Structures.

After two intense days of sharing, learning, and networking, it was finally time for a couple of weeks of relaxing!

September

One of the first workshops we provided after our summer break, was the public “Scrum Master Learning Journey”. It’s an idea sparked while hosting this learning journey at the ANWB and KPN. Although we enjoyed it a lot, making this a public workshop would give more Scrum Masters the opportunity to join. With 50+ participants joining from different countries, it was a successful experiment! Together, this large group of Scrum Masters shared ideas, gained new insights and helped each other define & refine their own personal learning journey with Scrum.

Having accepted the invitation from fellow Scrum.org trainer Nils Oud, we provided a workshop & presentation at Agile Amsterdam a week later. Its theme was Zombie Scrum and the timing couldn’t have been better. Because in the same period, we launched the Zombie Scrum Symptom Checker. This free survey helps you diagnose your Scrum Team. After completing the survey, you’ll receive a profile for your team that helps identify areas for improvement.

By now, almost 1300 teams have participated! The data helps us fulfill our mission of using an empirical approach to better understand how teams and organizations work with Scrum, what it makes possible for them, what enables or impedes their success and how to better support them.

October

The public “Scrum Master Learning Journey”-workshop was followed by an in-company one in Billund (Denmark). Together with 35 Scrum Masters from different teams and parts of the organization, we encouraged them to share ideas & challenges and define the next steps in their own Scrum learning journey.

Back in Amsterdam, we hosted the first Strategy Knotworking workshop together with Anna Jackson and Fisher S. Qua. Strategy Knotworking is a coherent set of Liberating Structures that aims to involve and engage everyone in developing and evolving sustainable strategies on all levels of an organization. Using Zombie Scrum as the theme, we jointly developed strategies to prevent a further outbreak and resolve the current infections.

We finished the month by participating in the Agile Turkey Summit. It was once again a blast! This really is one of the best summits we’ve experienced and the enthusiasm of the Turkish Scrum & Liberating Structures community is memorable!

November

Although not as often as the PSM II class, we continue to host PSM classes as well. They prove to be the perfect entry class for beginning Scrum Masters. So we started November by exploring the Scrum Framework together with 16 participants.

This class was followed by the Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop in Amsterdam. Again, it was fully booked with 75 participants from 17 different countries! This time, the design team for the Immersion Workshop consisted of Maryse Meinen, Harry Nieboer, Karen Dawson and Julie Huffaker. Karen & Julie (flying over from the US and Canada) and Daniel Steinhofer (from Germany) also helped out with the Conflict Workshop which took place two days later. Together with 55 participants, we explored practical strategies to navigate conflicts more effectively.

Being a sponsor for the XP Days Benelux, we obviously joined this year's edition in Heeze (Netherlands) as well. It’s always a great opportunity to catch up with so many friends from the Scrum community.

In the remaining available time, we finished the first chapters for our upcoming book the “Zombie Scrum Survival Guide” as well. By partnering up with Addison-Wesley and Scrum.org we’ll release this handbook for the aspiring Zombie Scrum fighter in Q1 of 2021.

December

Given the success of the previous edition in June, we decided to organize another Professional Scrum with Kanban class in December. Together with Daniel Vacanti, we designed the class in such a way it provided a good mixture of exploring theoretical concepts and hands-on practice. Given the waiting list and the positive feedback afterward, we decided to organize two more classes in 2020.

Our friends of KPN iTV hosted this year’s final Liberating Structures User Group meetup. We used it to experience if Liberating Structures can also be used in smaller groups (max 5 people). The answer was a resounding ‘yes’! Most structures remain powerful to use, although some tweaking and creativity might be required.

After having provided another public PSM II class, the final event of this year was The Liberators Network meetup, hosted at Nationale Nederlanden. Together with 25 participants, we reflected on our personal superpowers and how they fit with others. The new ‘draft’ Liberating Structure “Superpower Cakewalk”, helps appreciate paradoxical qualities in yourself and in your working relationships. Noticing paradoxical qualities can help you face up to and make progress on complex challenges. It was a great topic to close an awesome year!

Things We Didn’t Do

So was everything we’ve done in 2019 a huge success? Well, no. Luckily, we’ve experienced more successes than failures. But not everything turned out the way we initially had in mind. For example, organizing public workshops in other countries proves to be very challenging. Mostly from a legal & tax perspective. Outside of the Netherlands, it’s much easier & tempting to do in-company work instead of public workshops. Because that doesn’t really match the pivot we’ve made earlier this year, we’re still figuring out a solution. Ideas are welcome :)

In some countries, language is a barrier as well. Especially in countries like France, Italy, and Spain, a workshop that uses English as a language prevents participants from signing up. Maybe time for us to pick up a new language!

Closing

We started The Liberators at the beginning of 2018. So the company hardly exists for two years. Reading through the overview we created for 2018 and writing this 2019 edition, the number of adventures we’ve experienced feels unreal. We are two very fortunate guys. Meeting so many great people of whom we’ve learned a ton is something we’re tremendously grateful for.

We especially want to show our gratitude to the Patreon’s who financially support our mission of liberating people from dehumanizing ways of working. Because of that support, we can dedicate more of our time on writing, recording podcasts, making videos and hosting meetups to connect people.

We hope you’ve had a great year as well, and maybe our paths cross (again) in 2020!

The Liberators

The Liberators: Unleashing Organisational Superpowers

Barry Overeem

Written by

Unleashing Organisational Superpowers

The Liberators

The Liberators: Unleashing Organisational Superpowers

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