The purpose of Liberating Structures is to unleash and involve everyone in shaping the next steps. They enable decision-making and strategy-forming, improve collaboration, create shared understanding, spark creativity, and make use of the wisdom of the crowd. Altogether, the 33 Liberating Structures enhance relational coordination and as such builds trust. That’s quite something!
Each of the 33 Liberating Structures has a unique purpose. For example, the purpose of “1–2–4-ALL” is to engage groups in generating questions, ideas, and suggestions. With “Wise Crowds”, you tap the wisdom of the group to solve persistent challenges. And “Heard, Seen, Respected” builds empathy and understanding within a group. As such, the purpose of each Liberating Structure is to support groups in a specific, and unique way.
There’s one Liberating Structure that uses a completely different approach. It helps groups to take a step back and uses a meta-perspective to encourage everyone to reflect on how they’re actually working as a group. How diverse are we as a group? How well are we in tune with one another? How much do we act together? How important is it that we work together?
Figuring out the answer to these questions is the purpose of the Liberating Structure “Generative Relationships STAR”. It was developed by professor Brenda Zimmerman, and adapted by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless.
In this blog post, we describe the purpose of Generative Relationships STAR, how it works, and when you could use it with your Scrum team.
The purpose of Generative Relationships STAR
As human beings, we continuously work together in groups. It’s part of our nature. In the organizational context, we work in groups for various reasons. For example: developing new products, realizing a company strategy, or doing specialized work for a department (Finance, Marketing, Sales, etc.). Most likely, you’re not part of only one group. You can be engaged in multiple groups with different purposes simultaneously. Within a group, each person has their own priorities, ambitions, and goals. It’s quite complex, to make the sum of all the individuals a successful group.
This is where the STAR compass tool can play a useful role. It can help a group understand how they work together and identify changes that they can make to improve group performance. All members of the group diagnose current relationship patterns and decide how to follow up with action steps together. The STAR compass tool becomes even more powerful when you use it frequently. After a first diagnosis, you can evaluate the progress you make as a group and see if things are actually improving. Are the relationships within the group more or less generative? Do we draw out our diverse perspectives among members? How clear is our purpose?
Inspect and improve the performance of a team with “Generative Relationships STAR”. Download a free high-resolution version of this poster from our webshop.
Steps to facilitate Generative Relationships STAR
While there is no single best way to facilitate Generative Relationships STAR, we’ve found the following steps the most helpful. It’s always useful to check the original description on LiberatingStructures.com as well.
Give each participant a printed or virtual copy of the STAR compass. Optionally, create one larger poster to capture the insights of the entire group;
(10 min) Explain the STAR compass, create a shared understanding of the different elements, and clarify the rating (1–5 or low-high);
(5 min) Ask everyone to first individually and in silence reflect on the STAR compass tool, and give each part a rating between 1–5. Also, include keywords that explain the rating;
(5 min) Invite people into pairs to share their STAR compass, and encourage them to look for consensus and differences. If you do this virtually, create breakout rooms for the pairs;
(10 min) Ask the pairs to find another pair and share their compasses, and together share thoughts and ideas. Additionally, ask the small groups to decide what type of results are generated by the patterns of interaction they have identified. For example: high Tuning + no Action = we get along well but accomplish little. If you’re doing this virtually, move the groups of four into break-out rooms;
(10 min) Together, collect the key insights in a shared workspace, and briefly discuss them with the entire group;
(10 min) Create small groups again, and ask each group to define improvements. Write them down as 15% Solutions. This encourages the participants to make the action steps small, concise, and tangible;
(10 min) Again, collect the key ideas and next steps in a shared workspace, and discuss them with the entire group. Ideally, schedule a follow-up session to diagnose the group with the STAR compass again, and evaluate the progress everyone made.
When to use Generative Relationships STAR?
You can use Generative Relationship STAR for a wide variety of applications. Whenever you work with a group, which happens all the time, you can benefit from occasionally using the STAR compass tool. Three obvious opportunities to use the tool are:
During the kickstart of a new Scrum team;
To assess the relationships within an existing Scrum team;
To evaluate a Scrum team that feels they can improve collaboration.
Use Generative Relationships STAR during the kickstart of a new team (picture by Christiaan Verwijs)
Combinations With Other Liberating Structures
Generative Relationship STAR is a Liberating Structure that you can use in a 30-minute session, or distributed in a series of short workshops that take multiple hours. You can create a string of Liberating Structures in which Generative Relationship STAR is part. Or use other Liberating Structures to explore the four elements of the STAR compass.
Possible Liberating Structure to inspect the STAR compass:
Use What, So What, Now What to create a shared understanding of the results of the STAR compass. In 3 rounds, discuss the facts (round 1), the interpretations and conclusions (round 2), and the next steps (round 3);
Try Conversation Cafe to engage everyone in making sense of the STAR compass. In a way, the flow of Conversation Cafe resembles the structured approach of What, So What, Now What.
Create a more dynamic inspection with Shift & Share. Create stations for each of the four elements and inspect the results together. Follow-up with 15% Solutions to make it actionable.
String the following Liberating Structures together to explore the four elements of the STAR compass:
Separateness: 1–2–4-ALL, Conversation Cafe, Impromptu Networking;
Tuning: Wise Crowds; Troika Consulting; Heard, Seen, Respected;
Action: 25/10 Crowd Sourcing; 15% Solutions;
Reason: Nine Whys; What I Need From You;
Try Conversation Cafe to engage everyone in making sense of the STAR compass.
Take sufficient time to create a shared understanding of the four different elements. If everyone has a different view on the parts of the STAR compass, it will only result in confusion instead of a meaningful conversation;
The STAR compass should be used as a conversation starter. Don’t focus too much on the individual scores. Instead, look for patterns and differences;
The original poster uses “high — low”. We’ve chosen a score between 1 and 5. Use whatever you prefer. We prefer using a score because it makes it easier to see patterns and differences;
Be clear that a low score doesn’t mean it’s negative. For example, scoring low on “Action” can mean you don’t work much together as a group. But maybe, this works perfectly fine for them. Doing everything together as a group might also mean there are many dependencies and/or a lack of trust to work individually.
In this blog post, we shared our view on the Liberating Structure “Generative Relationships STAR”. We described its purpose, explained the steps, when to use it, how it connects to other structures, and what to pay attention to. We hope it triggered you to try it yourself. Use it as a compass to help a group understand how they work together and identify changes that they can make to improve group performance. If you’ve got any other ideas or experiences with this structure: always feel free to share them. Let’s learn and grow, together!