How we completely revamped our end-of-the-year review using Liberating Structures

Endless meetings but no action with feedback sessions that are stifled and lead by overbearing managers. Employees that struggle to be heard beyond the boundaries of their team, frustrated about performance reviews. Sometimes afraid to speak their mind because they are unsure if anything will be done about it. Does this sound familiar? Then keep reading, because we are about to open a book on Liberating Structures and how Quby used the structures for improving and reflecting on the end-of -year review process.

As a company in the fast-paced tech sector we continuously try to improve our product, as well as our organization. The energy and smart home sectors are constantly changing, so we have to be efficient but also flexible. At Quby, we achieve this flexibility using Scrum and Agile. In December last year, our Scrum Masters took an advanced Scrum Master training during which they were first introduced to Liberating Structures by Barry Overeem and Christiaan Verwijs. Liberating Structures is a book by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz with 33 structures that help facilitators make voices heard, optimize interaction and creativity and to reach consensus. In the world of Scrum, the structures can be particularly useful, as they require no official training but provide helpful tools for facilitation. The Scrum Masters were hooked, so much so, that they enlisted in the Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop in Amsterdam, facilitated by several practitioners alongside Keith McCandless.

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“It is about making meetings useful.

Hearing voices is really valuable in development teams, because you have some people who will usually talk a lot and some who keep to themselves. That’s where Liberating Structures are especially useful.” – Scrum master, Quby

The end-of-year review

Like most companies, we have ways to measure our performance - on a company, team and individual level. A part of this is the (widely frustrating) end-of-the-year review.  The review used to be a one-on-one talk with your manager, but then it evolved into a talk with the Scrum Master and Product Owner using input from the team. But this is not the only feedback moment. Usually the developers have a quarterly 360 feedback session where everyone gets feedback on their performance. This has helped teams get used to being open towards each other. The ultimate goal for the end of year review is to have an open discussion with the team about performance. 

As in many companies, there were some frustrations about the process at Quby.  As a learning organization, the Scrum Masters trigger continuous improvement on all aspects of the organization, including the end of year review. Scrum Master Darcy heard about frustrations around the end-of-the-year review, from both developers and Scrum masters. To address the concerns, Darcy used Liberating Structures to facilitate a reflection on the process.

So how does it work?

You can combine and adapt the structures to your need. Darcy used the fishbowl structure and combined it with the W3 structure.

  Facilitation at a Quby Leadership event using a Liberating Structure called 'Consultants'

Facilitation at a Quby Leadership event using a Liberating Structure called 'Consultants'

1st Round - Fishbowl
She first had the developers in the “fishbowl”, sitting in a circle and reflecting on the good, the bad, and the ugly of their experience during the end-of-year review while Scrum Masters, Agile Capabilities Leader, HR, and our CFO who leads the HR team observe and listen to their discussion from outside the circle. 

2nd Round - Fishbowl + W3
She then had the decision-makers and Scrum Masters sit inside the fishbowl and asked them to make their assumptions explicit by answering three W questions: ‘what did you hear?’, ‘what patterns did you observe?’ and ‘what can we do about it?’.  The question ‘what do you need?’ was posed to the developers before answering the third ‘W’.

During the fishbowl, the facilitator guides but is not allowed to interrupt – neither are the observers on the outside of the fishbowl.  Of course, the facilitator should be aware of different personalities and cultures. Quby is a very diverse company with 30 nationalities and not everyone communicates in the same manner.

Following the retrospective, an agreement with follow-up actions agreed on by HR, the CFO, and the Agile Capabilities Leader was sent out to all participants. The actions consisted of changes for next year’s end of year review process.

The results: how did it go?

Darcy was really impressed with how open people were sharing their emotions. She thinks that this was the first time Human Resources Personnel heard about these experiences and the process from the developers themselves.

The developers themselves had mixed experiences. Initial expectations were low because of doubts that the retrospective would lead to change. So afterwards, Darcy discussed the review format with the developers. Developers were happy with the opportunity to have an open discussion about the end-of-year review process with a board member of the company present. They felt that their voices were heard. Darcy learned to communicate the facilitation method up front to participants. 

“The structures can be a good tool to get new insights, to look at things from a different perspective or go a little bit deeper into certain issues. It is a more playful way too, to deal with issues.”- Developer at Quby

In order to improve sensitive processes like the end-of-the-year review we think it is important to listen to developers first. And we believe that using Liberating Structures during the end-of-the-year review can really make a difference by creating more openness and facilitating deeper discussions. What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

Do you want to find out more about Liberating Structures in a practical setting? A new Immersion Workshop will be held on December 10 & 11 in Amsterdam (click here for more information). We are very proud to announce one of our scrum masters, Rasheed Raya, will facilitate as part of the Design Team. Good luck, Rasheed!