Last week Anna Jackson and I hosted a 2-Day workshop at Native, an Austin modern hostel, kitchen, and bar. This workshop is part of a series of Liberating Structures workshops that we are hosting with a focus on scrum masters, agile coaches, and technology leaders. Native’s event space is simple and raw, which was a new challenge as we had to activate infrastructure in addition to our standard programming. Now that we’ve successfully activated this raw space we are confident we can use this a clean and beautiful space may bring other events to life.
“It’s so fun to see people from a super wide range of domains connecting to one another and beginning to realize what’s possible if they begin to use Liberating Structures in their work all the time. New ways of working together really begin to open up and you can see how enlivened our everyday work can be.” — Anna Jackson, Liberating Structures Workshop Leader
Liberating Structures has been gaining popularity among the agile coach and scrum masters communities. In addition to Anna’s typical audience of health care, nonprofits, and government we thought it would be great to include these people from the technology world. While not exclusive to them we designed with them in mind to ensure they would find exceptional value in the workshop.
Anna and I brought in Amanda Bowman, a Liberating Structures practitioner that has extensive experience leading workshops with Anna, to assist in leading the workshop. Like Anna, Amanda is a skilled graphic recorder. They took turns illustrating as we all facilitated individual methods. Adding the visualization makes always make the event more engaging and memorable.
Céline Steer and Ruben Cantu joined Anna, Amanda, and me on the design group. The design group’s purpose is to define a theme and then build a sequence of structures that support the theme. The decisions on which structures to cover were guided by theme as well as the methods designer team members wanted to practice facilitating.
“The Liberating Structures workshop provided more than an interactive opportunity to meet new professionals. As a design team participant, I even had the opportunity to role play and strategize how the exercises can be implemented at work. “ — Ruben Cantu, Managing Partner, Kai Impact
As usual, the design team used Purpose to Practice, Liberating Structures Principles, and Design Storyboarding to guide our workshop structure. We met four times before the workshop to plan and prepare for the day.
Amanda kicked off day 1 with an Impromptu Networking followed by me facilitating Appreciative Interviews and we wrapped the day with Céline guiding us through a tour of the Liberating Structures Principles. Day 2 started with Anna facilitating spiral journal and finished the day with the everyone’s favorite, 25–10 Crowdsourcing. We also covered What’s a Pig, an LS micro-lecture, TRIZ, Discovery and Action Dialog, Conversation Cafe/WWW, Troika, and Open Space led by Anna; Back to Back Listening and Leader Follower facilitated by Ruben; 9 Whys, Design 101, What I Need From You led by Amanda; Ecocycle Planning and Critical Uncertainties led by me.
“It was great to facilitate a session. Having participants facilitate demonstrates the flexibility of LS and removes the hierarchical barrier between a facilitator and the audience.” — Céline Steer, Corporate Responsibility Consultant.
I always enjoy learning new facilitation tricks and punctuations from Anna. Sometimes it’s as simple as specific language choices that work perfectly in the moment. The punctuations aren’t always documented and are potent additions to your tool belt so it’s nice to pick them up when you can. During this workshop we covered What’s a Pig, Back to Back Listening, and Leader Follower. Punctuations are useful in everyday meetings as they don’t require dedicating as much time and their structure is light and easy to insert into new places.
“I felt that Liberating Structures would be a good addition to the “soft skills” side of my Scrum Master toolbox. I left the workshop feeling energized and ready to help our teams feel empowered with a tangible plan in mind! “— Megan Kuhl, Scrum Master
Given my love for strategy and process to broaden our thinking I was pleased to facilitate the strategic methods. The strategic methods are exceptionally well suited for technology companies or anyone that may face potential disruption. Critical Uncertainties and Ecocycle Planning are two of the more robust strategic planning tools in the liberating structures repertoire.
Critical Uncertainties is a tool that helps you to assess the ability of current strategies and build an ability to respond to changes in the future. First, you consider all of the critical and uncertain factors that you are currently facing or may face in the future. From this list, you’ll select the two most important and place them each on an x & y axis.
Once you have drawn your matrix, it is helpful to name and describe each quadrant. Once you’ve considered each quadrant, you can then begin to explore each quadrant to determine strategies that may work in those scenarios.
After working on each quadrant, go back and review all your strategies. Consider which strategies are hedging strategies and only work in a specific scenario or prepare you for those conditions and which strategies are robust strategies and will work in all or most situations?
This structure does not help you generate a plan. It is a tool for developing your strategic thinking and building the capacity to respond to and anticipate changes in your environment proactively.
Critical Uncertainties is a great fit for exploring what features to include in your product, planning and preparing for multi-country IT implementations, and executives creating or refining a 10-year strategic vision
Rather than expecting everyone to align on a common set of critical and uncertain elements we provided them with “High Impact Opportunities Abound vs High Impact Opportunities Scarce” and “Expert Team vs. Novice Team”. I invited the audience to divide into 4 groups. Each group was assigned a quadrant. First, they named and wrote a description for their quadrant. After sharing their names and descriptions, they began to list out strategies that would work for their quadrant. After sharing their strategies, they classified their strategies as hedging or robust and shared this with everyone.
“The workshop helped me learn and practice some of the LS tools. I now understand enough to read about the other tools and apply them as well” — Michael Smith, Director of Orquestando
Ecocycle Planning helps you to contextualize as aspects of the system that you are operating and allows you to scan for bottlenecks objectively. An Ecocycle is drawn as an infinity symbol with four phases and two traps identified. These phases help you to determine where various components of your systems or products in your portfolio exist within the ecosystem lifecycle. The four phases are birth, maturity,, creative destruction, and renewal. The two traps are the rigidity trap and the poverty trap. The Ecocycle is a continuous loop and activities and projects can exist in one place on the map and quickly shift to another.
The front half of the loop, birth & maturity are how we typically think of projects. The back of the loop, creative destruction and renewal, is often new to people. This is an important opportunity for teams to expand how they think of their portfolio or system. Activities can also exit the loop if you decide to end them. The two traps are also an opportunity for series exploration. We find ourselves in the rigidity trap when an activity in maturity has become ineffective and we haven’t made requisite changes. Projects live in the poverty trap when we discover opportunities for re-birth and are not investing in the change.
Ecocycle is effective at prioritizing a backlog, balancing a product portfolio, discovering resources that can be repurposed, stepping back and shedding light on situations where killing one project allows you to proceed on another.
When running an Ecocycle internally, you’ll invite your team to begin by listing out projects and initiatives that occupy their time. Then you’ll organize into groups of four and explore the placement of these activities onto the Ecocycle. After everyone has finished plotting on the Ecocycle, everyone shares and explores areas where there is a lack of consensus. Finally, the group discusses next steps how they might respond to insights from the Ecocycle.
During the workshop, I asked participants to consider various Facebook products and services and where they fall on the Ecocycle. I encouraged them to think of themselves as part of focus group, and Facebook is asking them, as a Facebook user, where do these features and capabilities live on the Ecocycle. We explored the following Facebook services: Groups, Events, Messenger, Chat, Dating, Fundraisers, Newsfeed, Security + Privacy, and Facebook Live
“I found the strategies and techniques provided by the LS methods to be ideal for the groups where there are frequently power differences amongst participants. The LS methods substantially reduce that differential “— Andres Guariguata, LCSW
Stay tuned for more workshops in our technology series. Given the success of this workshop and the positive reception from agile practitioners, we are excited to do it again. There was specific interest in building facilitation skills and tactical tools for dealing with difficult participants. If you are interested in being notified of our next event, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org