Use Appreciative Interviews to reveal conditions for successful Scrum

Liberating Structures are 33 microstructures 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 one the ‘immersion workshops’ that are taking place in March 2018.

Appreciative Interviews (AI) is a Liberating Structure that helps identify enablers for success in less than one hour. By starting from what goes well – instead of what doesn’t – AI liberates spontaneous momentum and insights for positive change as “hidden” success stories are uncovered. It will spark true peer-to-peer learning, generate constructive energy and offers the participants valuable insights. In this post we’ll share examples of how we’ve applied this structures within our Scrum training and coaching engagements.

Uses in Scrum and workshops

We’ve used ‘Appreciative Interviews’ for a number of applications in (and outside) Scrum:

  • As part of a Scrum Master training to generate insights of what a Scrum Master can do to make the Development Team and Product Owner successful;
  • During a team kickoff to reveal the characteristics of the most successful Scrum teams the participants have been part of;
  • As part of technical workshops, where we identify enablers to successful architecture or code quality that already exist, rather than focus on what isn’t there;
  • As part of an ‘Agile Leadership workshop’ to explore what kind of leadership and management is desired to succeed with Scrum;

Steps to use this Liberating Structure

  1. Specify a theme or what kind of story participants are expected to tell.
  2. Ask the group to form pairs and sit face-to-face. Give everyone paper to take notes.
  3. In turn, interview each other about a personal success story related to the theme. Ask questions like "What happened?" and "What made the success possible?"
  4. Form groups of four. Retell the story of your partner. Identify and collect insights together. Focus in particular on what enabled the success;
  5. With everyone, gather insights & collect on a flip
  6. Ask the group: "How do we invest in success factors?", "What opportunities do you see to do more?". You can use 1-2-4-All to discuss the questions.

A story from the trenches

To make the possibilities of Appreciative Interviews more tangible, we’ll share a story of how we’ve used this structure within our Scrum engagements.

A couple of months ago we’ve facilitated the kickoff of a new Scrum Team. Most of the team members didn’t knew each other. They were from different departments or recently joined the organisation. By doing some research we learned that other Scrum Teams were not very successful yet. They struggled within an environment that hadn’t embraced Scrum fully. Therefore we wanted to prevent the kickoff to have a negative atmosphere with statements like “Scrum will never work in our organization” and “It’s impossible to succeed as a Scrum Team”.

We knew all team members had one thing in common: they’ve all be part of a successful (Scrum) team in their career. Aiming to create a positive ‘can do’ atmosphere we decided to use Appreciative Interviews during the kickoff. Using a one-hour time-box the team members interviewed each other about a personal success story of previous teams. They identified what happened in this team, what success looked like and how it was made possible. By identifying and collecting all the insights they created a one-pager with characteristics of a great team.

Everyone agreed that it would be awesome to become such a team. By sharing previous experiences using Appreciative Interviews we already learned that is difficult but definitely possible! Still energized by the positive atmosphere the Appreciative Interviews created, we defined the first steps that we deemed necessary to become a great team.

One of these steps was doing the same exercise (Appreciative Interviews) with management as well…

Most managers in this organisation only had experience using a command-and-control approach. They had already learned Scrum is about teams being self-organising, self-managing, self-designing and self-directing. However, by using a command-and-control approach they didn’t help the teams increase these capabilities.

Therefore we decided to facilitate a workshop in which we used Appreciative Interviews to determine the characteristics of a successful team according to management. Examples of such a team were intense collaboration, customer focus, reliable delivery, happiness, high quality products etc. All managers agreed that having (Scrum) teams in the organisation living up to these standards would be great.

After getting consensus on these team characteristics it was time to ask the most important question of this workshop…

“What can you as management do to create an environment where these Scrum Teams can flourish?”

Before the workshop management was pretty clueless and uncertain on how to support Scrum in their organisation. The uncertainty even made them resist the adoption of Scrum. By using Appreciative Interviews, defining conditions of a successful team and asking them what they as management can do to create the necessary environment, a true paradigm shift was made.

In the “old” organisation the teams served management. In the “new” organisation management served the teams.

Stringing together with other Liberating Structures

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

  • Start with Impromptu Networking to introduce the theme;
  • Use 1-2-4-ALL to discuss the questions in the final part of Appreciative Interviews
  • Try 25/10 Crowd Sourcing to generate and sift a group’s most powerful actionable ideas. Combine this with 15% solutions to focus on next steps that are possible immediately;
  • Follow up with Troika Consulting or Wise Crowds to coach individual participants into how to tap into the enablers of success (or strengthen them);

Tips

  • Before starting the interviews in pairs, give participants a couple of minutes to remember a success story from their past;
  • Minimise distractions so the participants can have focused interviews;
  • Encourage storytelling by starting with “Tell me a story about a time when…”;
  • Ask people to give a title to their partner’s story;
  • Make the stories and patterns visible to everyone;
  • Learn more from Appreciative Inquiry practitioners at https://appreciativeinquiry.champlain.edu/

Closing

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 the workshop in Amsterdam or one of the workshops that are taking place throughout Europe in March 2018. Barry Overeem & Christiaan Verwijs are organizing the workshop in Amsterdam, which will be facilitated by co-inventor Keith McCandless and pioneer Fisher Qua.

Christiaan Verwijs
Christiaan Verwijs

Scrum Master, Trainer, Developer & founder of Agilistic