Peer coaching with a 2-hour string of Liberating Structures

Liberating Structures are 33 easy-to-use structures for interaction in groups of any size. They enhance relational coordination and trust, foster lively participation and give everyone the opportunity to work at the top of their intelligence. What’s more, you can easily create strings of Liberating Structures to achieve some greater purpose. In this post, we share some of the strings we’ve used.

As The Liberators, we believe that training is only useful insofar that it can inspire and offer new perspectives. But the real work starts after a training when those valuable insights need to be applied to real-life scenarios. This is why we spend a lot of time supporting participants in their professional growth after training completes. One thing we do is offer free meetups that focus on peer coaching. As it turns out, Liberating Structures are a great way to these sessions.

Recently we (Barry Overeem and myself) provided an in-house training to Scrum Masters from Noun. Several months later, we facilitated a 2-hour Retrospective designed to give and get help from peers. In this post, we share our string of Liberating Structures, and hopefully, inspire you to give them a try. The string works well for intervision groups, peer coaching in groups and Retrospectives focused on individual growth.

Purpose of the string

Before designing a string, we began by clarifying the goals we wanted to achieve:

  • Refresh learning goals from the training;
  • Provide participants with the opportunity to give and get help on personal challenges related to their professional journey as Scrum Masters, based on what they learned;
  • Let people experience a string of Liberating Structures and explore how they can be used within their own teams (e.g. make them go viral);

Design of the String

  • Start with Impromptu Networking (15 min) to refresh the training and get people thinking about their progression since then. We used the invitation ‘Since the training, in what areas have you grown in your role? What turned out to be hard? What demands further attention?”. One of the wonderful qualities of Impromptu Networking is that the three rounds helps participants to refine their thoughts. It’s also a nice way to break the ice and get people moving around and reconnect with each other;
  • Let people develop a personal Ecocycle Planning (30 min) to identify activities (and optionally relationships) that help achieve a participants’ learning purpose or may be getting in the way. We began the structure by asking participants to make (individual) lists of all the activities and/or relationships needed to get their job done (5–10 min). We then explained the metaphor of the Ecocycle and invited people to plot the various items from their lists in their personal Ecocycle (15 min). We then asked people to get into pairs and share their ecocycles, providing each other with feedback about patterns and other things that they noticed (10 min);
  • When making an Ecocycle, ask people to create a numbered list of activities and use the numbers in the actual Ecocycle. This makes it much easier to identify patterns;
  • Using the Ecocycle created in the previous round, we invited participants to take one activity and identify at least one 15% Solution to advance on that item (10 min). For most, this was an activity from the ‘Rigidity Trap’ that they needed to stop (or ‘creatively destroy’) to create space for new things. Others picked an activity from their ‘Poverty Trap’ and identified actions to spend more time or energy on that activity (5 min);
  • Finally, we moved into groups of three to allow participants to give and get help with Troika Consulting. We invited people to ask help for a challenge related to their learning objectives or receive help on the activity they wanted to advanced on. In three rounds of 10 minutes, everyone got the opportunity to receive help once and give help twice;
  • We ended the 2-hour session with a laugh using an energizer called [Happy Salmon] (https://www.amazon.com/North-Star-Games-600NSG-Salmon/dp/B01D5CBK8A);

The outcome & tips for the future

The 2-hour string turned out to be an effective way to help people help each other in their professional journeys. The mix of Liberating Structures allowed people to connect with nearly everyone else in the group at least once. We noticed the following:

  • Ecocycle Planning is a very powerful Liberating Structures, even for individual use. But it can be challenging for people to wrap their heads around when they do it for the first time. Although the metaphor of natural growth and destruction helps, it can still be challenging for people to apply it to their own work. We found that it works well if you use some real-life examples of activities for the various quadrants;
  • Make sure to facilitate this session in a room where outside distractions are minimized, or risk losing focus and flow. We facilitated the event in an office space that was actively used by others. With no other space available, we tried to make the best out of it. On occasions, we had to compete with a tasty birthday cake that turned up, phone calls that needed to be answered and colleagues asking for coffee;
  • In hindsight, we could have used Troika Consulting to help participants identify concrete improvements for the activity they picked from their ecocycle. In our original design, we ask people to come up with improvements themselves first. But Troika Consulting is a great way to get creative input from peers;

Closing

In this blog post, we’ve shared the string of Liberating Structures use for peer coaching sessions after trainings that we provide. The focus of the string was to refresh learning goals, to identify personal improvements related to those goals and give and get help in achieving them. The resulting 2-hour string is easy to use. And quite a lot of fun too :) Enjoy using it with your peer group, team or intervision group!

If you’d like to experience Liberating Structures first-hand, make sure to join our Dutch user group or check the ones in your area. Read our earlier posts about 1–2–4-ALL, 25/10 Crowdsourcing, Appreciative Interviews, Impromptu Networking, Min Specs, Nine Whys, Shift & Share, TRIZ and Troika Consulting.

Christiaan Verwijs
Christiaan Verwijs

Scrum Master, trainer, facilitator and co-founder of The Liberators