Remote Teams and Virtual Facilitation

Interesting article from Ram Srinivasan with some great tips on working with distributed teams, including research why having co-located teams is better can be found:

Here are my major takeaways.

  • Facilitator tip – Rather than merely trying to replicate a technique that works for  in-person meetings, try to deconstruct why that technique works and reconstruct that technique for virtual meetings
  • Participate in the virtual meeting with the same level of attention (or more) and engagement as though it is an in-person meeting (that means no multi-tasking)
  • There is a self-fulfilling prophecy with regard to virtual meetings  – you experience poor virtual meetings, you expect bad meetings, you get bad meetings, and the cycle perpetuates itself
  • Set expectations upfront – very clearly and this is how you break the self-fulfilling prophecy
    • Ban phone only meetings, use videos for ALL the meetings.
      • People get a lot of cues when seeing the face and having a video helps in non-verbal communication, not to mention that it actually engages people
      • Have you heard the toilet flushing sound when in conference calls(because someone forgot to mute their phone)? Bet you will not hear that when you have your participants turn on the video.
    • You got to be on the video, else we close the meeting right away. You join on video, else you don’t. Period.
    • You got to join the meeting from a quiet place, not “dial-in” it from the bus when you are on your way home. And you must be on the video. Period.
    • Even if one person breaks the expectations once, we close the meeting right away. We break it once, it is an excuse to break it the second time and we are back with the self-fulfilling prophecy of bad virtual meetings
  • Normalize the communication channels – One person is remote? Then everyone is joining remotely using their own video from their laptop.  Two people cannot join using the same video. Don’t have a camera? GET ONE !!
  • Facilitator and participant tip – try having the video right below the camera (than having the video on a different screen) in your laptops/computer. It creates an impression that you are looking into the camera when you are looking into the video
  • In-person meetings and co-located teams work because we “socialize” quite a bit. Try having some “social” time in virtual meetings as well. Try “bring your own cider” (the choice of drink will depend on the timezone of the participants)
  • As a facilitator, you got to have everyone engaged – here are a few tips
    • Get everyone on video.
      • This minimizes the participants’ tendency to multi-task
      • This also prevents people from anonymously snooping in. Have you had people join a conference call and not announce themselves?  Will you let someone walk into your in-person meeting with a mask on? If no, why would you have someone snoop into your virtual meeting?
    • Avoid PowerPoints – it is just one-way broadcast. Use tools that support “virtual” break-out rooms.
    • Increase psychological safety (more on this in a different blog later) so that people can actually speak up.
  • Facilitator tips –
    • Like my friend Mike Dwyer says – use the NOSTUESO rule – No One Speaks Twice Until Everyone Speaks Once.  And the participant has the right to pass.  This creates space for people to speak up.  Also, if participants speak up in the first five minutes, they are much more likely to speak again.
    • Hard to pass a talking stick and figuring out who should talk next in a virtual meeting when facilitating round-robin discussion – try this idea –  Have a participant speak and then nominate the next person. And repeat till everyone speaks
    • Prepare… prepare… prepare. You cannot wing a virtual meeting. You need more preparation. And you need a Plan B as well. What if the internet connection fails? What if your laptop crashes?
    • Pay attention to discomfort – participants can only sit in once place for so long
    • Bring psychological safety and engagement from everyone into the working agreement.  What might be the few ways that we damage psychological safety (sometimes unconsciously)?
    • Have someone paraphrase what a speaker said. This makes people pay more attention and also ensures that the speaker’s message landed as intended
    • If appropriate, use tools like or to increase engagement during the meeting by having participants answer questions.
  • When women speak first, the probability that other women speak is higher.
  • Remote meetings are a lot smaller than in-person meetings. It is hard to have more than 12 people in a virtual meeting (and then expect them to be engaged). If you are new start with six, then build up.

Designing a meetup about Liberating Structures

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Last Thursday I facilitated an internal Liberating Structures meetup together with Lars Coppens at ABN Amro. This meeting had a specific goal: How can you use Liberating Structures within Scrum events and especially with a distributed team. The time box and our challenge? Within 1.5 hours introduce several Liberating Structures and explain how to use these structures, so that the can be used with a distributed Scrum team. In this post I will describe how we designed this session.

I started by creating a list of structures I’ve used myself within Scrum events and added structures I could find others have used. You can find the list here.

Experience a structure?

The best way to learn Liberating Structures is not only to learn how to use them but also to experience them yourself. But because of the limited time, we thought people might be disappointed when we only covered a single or maybe two structures. We therefore tried to think about another way to give the participants as much information as possible without making it just a boring one-way presentation.

Information overload

Our first thought was using a Shift & Share. We could set up a station for every Scrum event and just make a presentation out of it. But that would be boring! Instead, we thought of asking the attendees to identify structures that we could use for each event. That automatically made us think of doing Caravan. Wouldn’t it be nice to let the people themselves add additional Structures to the initial list and create a long list of possible structures for each event?

But then we thought of a possible flaw in this plan. A lot of people still don’t know Liberating Structures and are attending this meetup to learn about them. So without briefly explaining the structures, it would probably be very hard for them to select structures for an event. 

Power to the people

We eventually came up with the idea to use Open Space Technology to let the participants pick the structures they want to learn about. This way we had an opportunity to share as much information as possible in a way that people could decide for themselves what they wanted to learn. And maybe we could close the session by asking the participants which structures they would like to experience themselves. With this output, we could structure our future meetups. 

We already had an extensive list of structures that could be used to facilitate Scrum events. So we picked a number of them that could be used for multiple events and wanted the participants to choose from these. 

With the possibility of over 40 participants, how would we find ourselves other facilitators and quickly decide on a schedule? We could just ask them, but what is the fun in that 😉 so what if we would use a Gallery Walk as input for the Open Space?

Our string

The eventual string we came up with looked like this:

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Impromptu Networking (with Folding Spectrogram)

To introduce the participants to each other, we used Folding Spectrogram as a way to form the first pairs for Impromptu Networking.

We used the following invitation for Folding Spectrogram:

  • Form a line, starting with the person which has the least experience in using Liberating Structures in Scrum events and ending with the person with the most experience in this area.

After everyone was paired up, we used the following invitations to start Impromptu Networking:

  • What do you hope to give and get from this session?
  • What is your experience with Liberating Structures and have you ever used them in a Scrum event?
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Gallery Walk

We created posters for the selected Liberating Structures which we spread across the room together with the card from the card deck and an icon of the structure and invited the participants to walk around in silence first to see which structures there were.

Next, we invited them to move to the structure they had the most experience with. We made a mistake to include 1-2-4-All which of course attracted the most people 😉 but luckily there were also people at other structures. For us, this was an indication we might find possible facilitators for the Option Space.

In order to select the topics for the Option Space. We asked the attendees to move to the structure they wanted to know more about.

Option Space Technology

After this, we asked who would want to facilitate one of the structures where people gathered around and quickly found a couple of volunteers. The rest of the slots would be facilitated by Lars and me and therefore, we invited the attendees to create their own schedule using the remaining structures.

We proposed to facilitate each slot using the following steps:

  1. Introduce and explain the selected structure
  2. Using a 1-2-All to answer the following questions:
  • For which Scrum events can you use this structure?
  • Can you use this structure in a distributed environment and how?
  • Can you use this structure within a small team (less than 6 people)?

When the time box was over, we quickly debriefed what we had discovered and introduced an online tool called mentimeter. 

Using for distributed facilitation

To wrap up the meeting and gather input for our next meetups. We used the tool mentimeter to ask the participants two questions. 

Mentimeter is an online tool that I use a lot with distributed teams to collect feedback from individuals. I’m still planning on writing a separate article on this, so keep an eye out for it in the future 😉

We could have used a 25/10 to determine which Liberating Structures our public wants to experience during the next meetup. But using the ranking question in mentimeter we could get a similar outcome in less time. And at the same time let everyone experience how easy can be used.

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As a wrap-up question, we asked the participants for feedback on this session and if they enjoyed it. Luckily most of them did! For me the best feedback we received is that almost a third of them wants to experience more structures in-depth and thinks 1.5 hours might be too short to do so. So, challenge accepted! I’m looking forward to facilitate future meetups!

What do you think of the string we came up with? Do you have any tips on what we could’ve done better? Let me know!

as also published on:

The Scrum Master’s field guide to a newly formed scrum team

This guide is a list of suggestions you can implement as a Scrum Master when you are joining a newly formed scrum team. However, many of the suggestions described here may be useful in case you become Scrum Master for an existing scrum team.

Read the complete article here:

Hand retrospective

Je maakt gebruik van je eigen hand. Je geeft iedere vinger een betekenis in relatie tot de afgelopen sprint. Je laat mensen nadenken over hun eigen functioneren en over het functioneren van het proces. Tegelijkertijd activeer je mensen om actief mee te doen. Teken zelf een hand op een whiteboard, door je eigen hand over te trekken. Schrijf bij de vingers:

Duim: Wat ging er goed?
Wijsvinger: Wat is jouw doel voor de komende sprint?
Middelvinger: Wat ging er niet goed? Wat wil je wegnemen uit het sprint-proces?
Ringvinger: Waar geef jij commitment voor af, de volgende sprint?
Kleine vinger: Wat is jouw persoonlijke zwakte?
(Vooral de kleine vinger is daarbij een afwisseling die het geheel persoonlijker maakt.)

Vervolgens vraag je aan het team om hun invulling op geeltjes te schrijven (5 minuten timeboxed). Hierna vraag je de teamleden om omstebeurt hun eigen hand op het bord over te trekken, waarna ze de geeltjes bij iedere vinger hangen en uitleg geven.

as copied from:

Things to consider if you are finding too many problems during your sprint reviews

Scrum’s sprint reviews are intended to surface issues that customers, users and stakeholders may have with the team’s work of the current sprint.

But sometimes, too many issues are identified. Not only can these be brutal for the team, Scrum Master, and product owner to sit through, having a lot of issues identified during the sprint review is a strong indicator that the team’s process could be improved.

Here are a few things to consider if you are finding too many problems during your sprint reviews.

  • Run shorter sprints. Finding a lot of problems in the review often indicates the team has gone astray in understanding users’ needs. They might find that shorter sprints give them more feedback opportunities.
  • Talk more often. One of the best ways to ensure team members are building what’s needed is for them to talk with users and customers more frequently. They don’t have to wait for sprint reviews to get a better understanding of what their users need.
  • Be sure you’re talking to the right people. Talking frequently won’t be helpful if team members are talking to the wrong users and customers. If you’re finding too many problems during the review, be sure the team is talking to the right people.
  • Demo early and often. Augment your conversations with users by giving them informal demos of what is being built as it’s being built.

In addition to trying one or more of these fixes, use the retrospective to discuss why so many issues were found during the review.

Finding problems isn’t necessarily a problem itself, but finding them as late as the sprint review is.

Addressing that and finding issues earlier will help your team succeed with agile,

Mike Cohn

Overcoming Four Common Objections to the Daily Scrum

Some meetings are helpful and worth the time investment. Mike Cohn puts well-run daily scrum meetings in that category.

In this article, Mike Cohn shares how he handles four common objections to participating in daily scrums.

  1. We Talk A Lot Already
  2. Nothing Important Is Ever Discussed
    1. Set Expectations
    2. Determine if the Objection Is Valid
  3. Can’t We Just Do This by Email?
  4. The Meetings Take Too Long

He then shares some attributes of a well-run daily scrum so that there will be no objections to participating.

  1. Meetings Are at the Same Time and Place Each Day
  2. Meetings Start on Time
  3. The Meetings Are Kept to No More than Fifteen Minutes
  4. Problems Are Identified But Not Solved in the Meeting
  5. Participants Stay on Topic
  6. Rules Are Enforced by the Whole Team, Not Just the Scrum Master
  7. The Whole Team and Only the Team Participates

Read the complete article here: