Use ‘Troika Consulting’ to help (Scrum) teams coach and learn from each other

Liberating Structures are 33 facilitation techniques 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 the ‘immersion workshop’ taking place in Amsterdam in December 2018. Also check out our previous posts on 25/10 Crowdsourcing, Appreciative Interviews, Shift & Share and Caravan.

Troika Consulting is a very powerful Liberating Structure that helps people gain insights on issues they face and unleash local wisdom for addressing them. In rapid rounds of “consultations”, individuals ask for help and get advice immediately from two others.

Peer-to-peer coaching helps the ‘client’ in refining their skills in asking for help. They will learn to formulate problems and challenges clearly. It enables the ‘consultants’ to improve their listening and consulting skills. Overall this structure builds trust within a group through mutual support, builds capacity to self-organize and creates conditions for unimagined solutions to emerge.

In this post, we’ll share examples of how we’ve applied this structures within our Scrum training and various coaching engagements.

Uses in Scrum and workshops

We’ve used Troika Consulting for a number of applications in (and outside) Scrum:

  • As part of a Product Owner training to encourage Product Owners to help each other by sharing experiences and offering advice on situations they’ve had in common;
  • During a Sprint Retrospective to facilitate the problem-solving process of the Scrum Team. Gather the problems the team is facing. Divide the Scrum Team into groups of three. One person is the ‘client’, the other two are ‘consultants’. The client explains the problem, the consultants listen and offer advice. It encourages the self-organizing capabilities of the Scrum Team so think of solutions themselves. As a Scrum Master you facilitate the entire process;
  • As part of backlog Refinement to explore upcoming features, risks or technical challenges with each other and define possible next steps;
  • During a Sprint Review to have stakeholders and the Scrum Team gain insights on the issues they face. The goal of a Sprint Review is to collect feedback and to determine the best way to move forward. By using Troika Consulting you can remove the possible barrier between stakeholders and the Scrum Team and have them jointly explore problems and define solutions;
  • As technique for intervision groups;
  • As part of the Retrospective we facilitate after the Scrum-courses we teach. These Retrospectives are coachings sessions and Troika Consulting fit that purpose perfectly. We facilitate the session in which the participants help each other making progress in their Scrum journey. That’s a unique journey for everyone. Because as trainers we don’t want to become the bottleneck, we encourage them to help each other. Using Troika Consulting invites the participants to fulfill the role of the client and consulting. Everyone shares a Scrum-related challenge and gets advice on how to deal with it. We strongly believe in the wisdom of the crowd; our goal is to facilitate the problem-solving process and in this example by using the technique of Troika Consulting.

Steps to use this Liberating Structure

  1. Form groups of three and invite them to explore the questions “What is your challenge?” and “What kind of help do you need?”
  2. Have the groups sit in small circles, preferably with knee-to-knee seating. In each round, one participant is the “client”, the others are “consultants”. Everyone has an equal opportunity to receive and give coaching.
  3. Invite the participants to reflect on the consulting question (the challenge and the help needed) they plan to ask when they are the clients (1 min.)
  4. Round one starts with the first client sharing his or her question in a more detail (1–2 min.)
  5. Consultants ask the client clarifying questions (1–2 min.)
  6. Client turns around with his or her back facing the consultants
  7. Together, the consultants generate ideas, suggestions, coaching advice (4–5 min.)
  8. The client turns around and shares what was most valuable about the experience (1–2 min.)
  9. Groups switch to the next person and repeat the steps.

Stringing together with other Liberating Structures

A key characteristic of Liberating Structures is that they can be easily combined to create programs for entire workshops or training. The options are endless:

  • Start with Impromptu Networking to introduce the theme and create an energetic atmosphere;
  • Meld with 15% solutions: each client shares a 15% solution, asking for coaching;
  • Use What I Need From You as a follow-up exercise to invite participants to ask what they need from others to be successful in reaching a specific goal and/or solving a problem.

Tips

  • Minimise distractions so the participants can have full focus;
  • When the client turns around with his or her back facing the consultants, have the consultants talk to each other — not with the client. Make clear the client can’t respond to questions or comment.
  • The focus of the client should be listening to what is being said — or what isn’t being said. Making notes might help the client, therefore offer a pencil and paper.
  • Invite the participants to form groups with mixed roles/functions. Mix the Scrum Team with stakeholders for example.
  • Tell the participants to take risks while maintaining empathy.
  • If the first round yields coaching that is not good enough, do a second round. Beware that two rounds of 10 minutes per client are more effective than one round of 20 minutes per client.
  • Tell clients to try and stay focused on self-reflection by asking, “What is happening here? How am I experiencing what is happening?”.

Closing

In this post we’ve explained the Liberating Structure Troika Consulting and how we’ve applied this structures 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 December 2018. Barry Overeem & Christiaan Verwijs are organizing the workshop in Amsterdam, which will be facilitated by co-inventor Keith McCandless and pioneer Fisher Qua. Also check out our previous posts on 25/10 Crowdsourcing, Appreciative Interviews, Shift & Share and Caravan.

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