If you are an experienced Scrum practitioner, chances are that you’ve worked with groups of sixteen or more. It could be during the kickoff at the start of a new project, a multi-team refinement session, or a Sprint Review with every possible stakeholder attending it.
How do you start such a gathering? How do you close the meetup and give everyone the feeling that it was a valuable investment of their time? How do you tap into everyone’s energy without doing another energizer that is fun but has nothing to do with the topic at hand?
Let’s start by sharing a story about a Scrum Team that is preparing for the Sprint Review. Let’s assume that the Scrum Master in this story is you …
“During the previous Sprint Retrospective, the team decided to invite all their stakeholders for the upcoming Sprint Review. The state of the increment was such, that the Developers wanted everyone to experience it, play with the product and offer feedback. So together with the Product Owner, the Developers invited all the relevant users, customers, and other stakeholders they could think of. As the Scrum Master, you anticipated a show-up of about 20–30 people in total…
While doing the last preparations for the Sprint Review, you noticed the excitement of the Developers going through the roof. You’ve also spoken to a couple of stakeholders and noticed they were curious to learn what this Sprint Review was going to be about.
At 9:00, 30 minutes before the start of the session, you asked the Developers to help remove all the chairs from the middle of the room. Embracing this opportunity for distraction, they eagerly helped you out.
At 9:30, the room was packed. Everyone seemed to have shown up. 40 people in total! Not being able to sit on a chair, everyone was shuffling around the room, waiting for something to happen. You noticed the excitement of the Product Owner and Developers. This was going to be an awesome Sprint Review! But how are we going to kick this off?
The only thing you told them during the final team huddle was: “don’t worry, I’ll unleash an outburst of many simultaneous conversations within minutes. The ice will be broken!”
You weren’t nervous at all. Because you knew what was going to happen. This group was about to experience… Mad Tea!” This Liberating Structure that is still in active development truly engages & unleashes everyone!
Interested in learning more about this Liberating Structure? Great! In this article, we’ll explain what Mad Tea is about. We’ll do so by sharing its purpose, describe how to facilitate it, and offer examples of how we’ve used it in working with Scrum.
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Mad Tea during the PSM II class in Bali
The Purpose of Mad Tea
As described on the website of Liberating Structures, Mad Tea is a “Liberating Structure-in-development” that quickly provokes a deeper set of reflections and insights among group members. While standing in two concentric circles, everyone forms a pair with someone else and completes an open-ended sentence in less than thirty seconds. After one minute, the participants move to the right, form a new pair, and complete the next sentence. This allows the entire group to simultaneously have a conversation, share ideas & insights, and quickly get to know many new persons.
The short intervals and pressure to respond quickly reveals essential qualities — without cerebral left brain “interference”. Mad Tea also helps participants to quickly share what’s on their minds at the start of the session. For example, if you expect the meetup to be emotional and full of tension, include open sentences in Mad Tea that already encourage participants to share these emotions. It creates space in their minds that allows a better start of the gathering.
How to facilitate Mad Tea
Mad Tea used during the Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop with 50+ participants
Examples of how to use Mad Tea
Any gathering with larger groups can benefit from Mad Tea. We’ve used it at the start or the end of a session, or as an energizer after lunch. Below we share examples of when to use it and included potential open sentences.
At the start of the Sprint Review to get everyone’s thinking started:
Exploring the concept of Sprint Goals by using this flow of prompts:
Fisher S. Qua created a string for a team working to improve their performance:
Inspired by Chris McGoff, Henri Lipmanowicz and Henri Lipmanowicz created this Strategy Questions Worksheet:
Using these sentences will bring more life and passion to strategy making. It quickly provokes a deeper set of reflections and strategic insights among group members. The questions focus attention and produce a shared understanding of strategic options and the next steps.
Daniel Steinhofer designed “Mad Love” as a variation on Mad Tea to help build safety and trust by starting personal conversations using 36 questions that can build intimacy and safety. For the prompts, use a selection of Mad Love, taken from this article in the New York Times.
Examples of questions the research suggests are:
In this article, we explained the purpose of Mad Tea, a Liberating Structure that is still in active development. By describing its steps and offering practical examples, we hope to have encouraged you to give it a try. Eager to learn even more examples of open sentences to use with Mad Tea? Check this Google Doc for 250+ suggestions!