We kick-started three Scrum Teams with this awesome string of Liberating Structures

This week I had the pleasure of helping three teams ‘kickstart’ their transition to Scrum with a 2-day workshop. This also presented me and my co-facilitator Jasper Alblas with the opportunity to use a string of Liberating Structures. Where the first day focused on the Scrum Framework and how to apply it, the second day was all about team building and expressing needs in order to be successful.

In this post I will share the string for the second day so that you can use it as inspiration for your own kickstart (or just use it as-is). A secondary purpose of this post is to show just how mind-blowingly powerful Liberating Structures are in engaging everyone.

An impression of the 2-day workshop

The context

The three teams we worked with consisted of one team that already had extensive experience with Scrum and two teams that where almost entirely new to it. The teams new to Scrum came from a very different organisational culture with a more directive style of management. For them, their work had recently hit rock-bottom and they needed help. A recent change in management and the resulting strategic changes meant that the three teams would collaborate more closely on product development. For this purpose, and to increase focus, safety and effectiveness, the teams would be (mostly) co-located on a new location (a bit like a Scrum Studio).

A goal was to signal clearly and strongly that this was a fresh start with great attention to the needs of teams and individuals

The 2-day workshop was attended by 22 people, including the three teams and representatives from management. The purpose of the workshop was to:

  • Learn more about Scrum and work together to discover how to make it work in their environment;
  • Based on the current composition of the teams, decide if anything needed to be changed;
  • Create a safe environment where people could express their needs and identify what it is that they need to be effective;
  • Signal clearly and strongly that this was a fresh start with great attention to the needs of teams and individuals;

The string we used

This was the string we ended up with, even though it was massively and frequently changed throughout the second day
  • Impromptu Networking (20 min): After an initial refresh of the first day, we started the second day by inviting people to create a personal profile of themselves. The profile consisted of a drawing of themselves and answers to questions like ‘How do colleagues describe you?’ and ‘What did you buy from your first salary?’. Using Impromptu Networking, we then invited people to share their profile with two other people in rotating pairs of 4 minutes. We then asked the group to share patterns they noticed. This was a great way to have some fun, get to know each other and make a personal connection;
  • Appreciative Interviews (30 min): Wanting to address team composition and what is needed to be a successful team, we invited participants to share success stories of teams they had worked with in the past. Using Appreciative Interviews, people interviewed each other about their success stories and then re-told the stories of their partners in groups of four while the others looked for patterns. The various groups then presented their findings to the whole group, allowing them to discover that things such as ‘Having clear goals’, ‘Being open to each other’ and ‘Spending time on personal growth together’ are very important. Note that as a Scrum Trainer, you can talk for hours about the importance of Sprint Goals without people truly getting it, while they are literally saying it themselves here.
Appreciative Interviews is an exercise that allows people to lean in and share personal success stories
  • Nine Whys (30 mins): Up to this point, all the exercises we’d done had been in mixed groups. But starting from this structure, we invited people to sit with their current team. We asked them to explore their personal purpose with Nine Whys and then work together to arrive at a shared purpose that reflected their individual purposes as well as the business reason for the team’s existence. We provided the teams with an empty flip to write down their shared purpose (I’m paraphrasing here, but one was ‘We exist in order to deliver a good-looking, commercially successful product that is used all over the world, while at the same time investing sufficient time in personal growth and continued development as a team’).
Expressing your needs clearly is very difficult at first
  • What I Need From You (60 mins): Having spent the morning on success factors of teams and personal and shared purposes, we then used What I Need From You for teams to express their needs from each other, from management and from us (as facilitators) in order to achieve their purpose and invest in the success factors they identified before. WINFY is awesome in that it first asks groups to identify their top needs. Representatives of the groups express those needs in a small circle, directing them at the representative of the group they need it from. There is no elaboration and no discussion. Instead, representatives return to their groups and decide together on their response: YES, NO, WE WILL TRY and WHATEVER (meaning: the need is too vague). The representatives re-convene and offer their responses to the representatives that expressed the need, again without elaboration or discussion. Because expressing your needs clearly is very difficult at first, we did two rounds to re-clarify needs and express additional ones that arose. This was a particularly powerful exercise. One example was a need from management to all the teams to be honest (about failures, about worries, etc) which resulted in a resounding YES! from all the teams. We collected the needs with a clear answer (YES, NO, WE WILL TRY) on a flip.
Obviously, we blurred out most of the post-its as they are personal.
  • Min Specs (45 mins): Having clarified the needs from people outside of the team, we moved our attention to what the people in the teams expected from each other. For this, we used Min Specs to first identify all the possible rules needed to work together effectively and then eliminating all the rules that the team could break while still being effective in achieving their purpose. The resulting ‘min specs’ list was turned into a team manifesto by all the teams and presented to the others;
Teams took the opportunity to decorate their team manifestos with drawings, their team’s purpose and whatever else they wanted to add.
  • 15% Solutions (15 mins): Moving to the people themselves, we asked everyone to identify their personal first step in contributing to working effectively with Scrum through 15% Solutions. Thanks to a tip by Fisher Qua, we asked everyone to crumple up their pieces of paper and throw them around while at the same time inviting everyone to pick up ideas and drawing inspiration from them for a couple of minutes. We then re-invited participants to re-formulate their 15% Solution, but make it smaller, simpler, clearer or better based on what they had just read from others. We invited everyone to step forward and share their first steps to the group and put it on a flip;
  • Social Network Webbing (15 min): Wanting to close the 2-day workshop, which had a lot of personal and intimate conversations, we moved outside for a short Social Network Webbing. Providing prompts such as “Put your hand on the shoulder of the person that said something that made you think” and “Put your hand on the shoulder of the person that made you laugh” we created the space for people to give their thanks to others;

Through both days, we used a number of energizers and so-called punctuations to take a break from the intense interaction of Liberating Structures. Spiral Journal and Leader~Follower are great examples of this, and we used them to move people ‘back into their own heads’ while reflecting on what had happend up to that point.

What we Loved

We absolutely loved the flow of the program, even though we changed it on countless occasions both before and during the workshop. The flow was palpable in how the teams relaxed throughout the 2 days and how easy it became for us to structure the interactions. It encouraged us to try new things, create bolder invitations or structures we’d never used before. In a sense, Liberating Structures are like a flowing river where participants go along for the ride. If you facilitate it well, and one structure flows into the next, it becomes smooth and effortless while having the important conversations as you go.

We also loved how the build-up of interactions created safety in the group to express needs, for example during WINFY. This was something that two of the three teams had not been able to do to this extent before. This was evident not only in the way that the group collaborate throughout the days, but also in simple things such as the participant that wrote down ‘FUN!’ when we asked him what he had felt throughout the day. Or in the small emotional moments during Social Network Webbing.


Reading posts about Liberating Structures may come across as if we’re merely talking methodology. But that is not the case. The structures are like a language that you use to think about, and give shape to the interactions that take place in groups. Having a dictionary of interactional structures in your head makes it easier to change ‘in the moment’. It also makes it easier when you share potential options with a co-facilitator. This makes it easier to achieve what Liberating Structures — and facilitation — are all about: finding powerful local solutions by engaging everyone involved.

Give them a try! And let us know what you discovered.

The Liberators unleash organisational superpowers, pretty much as described in this post. If you’d like to know more about our services, send us an email at info@theliberators.com. If you want to want to know more about Liberating Structures in general, and want to experience their power, join us at the 2-day Immersion Workshop taking place in Amsterdam on December 10 & 11.