W3 Liberating structure + say it with flowers retrospective

In Agile, Coaching teams from forming to performing, Liberating Structures, Participating-Supporting, Scrum Master by chuzzete1 Comment

Last week, I got the opportunity to replace one of our coaches to facilitate one of his team’s sprint retrospectives.

Without knowing any specifics regarding the team’s context, I have decided to use a liberating structure to help the team come up with an action plan to continue their improvement journey.

Here is how I proceeded to design, run and analyse the team’s retrospective:

What, So What, Now What

Room Setup

  •  I invited participants to form small groups of 3 people. We had tables for both groups and I won’t use them next time because it breaks the natural flow of conversations.

First stage: What

  •  I used the following question the start the conversation:
    • After experiencing the past sprint together, What happened? What facts or observations stood out ? 

What I have noticed when doing the exercise?

On the liberating structures web site W3 page, it is suggested to ask individuals to work 1 minute alone on “What happened? What did you notice, what facts or observations stood out?” and then 2–7 min. in small group. 3–8 min. total. Here is how I did it:

Work alone (3 minutes)

I noticed that 1 minutes was not enough for participants to come up with instances that reflected this stage, so I gave them 3 minutes to get their minds around what happened in the previous sprint and then we moved forward to the next stage of this microstructure. 

Share with your three some (5 – 7 minutes)

Once they ended up with their individual reflexions, I asked them to get together with their 3 some group partners and share the outcome of their conversations. 

Note: I asked them to use post it to write down their ideas, so then we could use then to share with the whole group.

Share with the whole group (5 minutes)

Salient facts from small groups are shared with the whole group and collected. 2–3 min. When doing this part of the microstructure, I noticed that it could be removed, given that it repeats itself in the upcoming two stages. At the same time, it helped with making visible some common patterns that were emerging out both subgroups discussions.

Second Stage: “So What”

For the second stage, here is what is suggested on LS W3 page website:

  • Second stage: SO WHAT? People work 1 min alone on “Why is that important? What patterns or conclusions are emerging? What hypotheses can I/we make?” then 2–7 min. in small group. 3–8 min. total.

Work alone (3 minutes)

In order to validate the importance of the salients facts, I asked people to individually put their heads around it, using the following question:

” Why are these facts/instances important to you?

It took again up to 3 minutes for people to get to their answers.

Share with the whole group (5 minutes)

Then when sharing with their group, I invite them to answer:

“What patterns or conclusions are emerging?”

Share with the whole group (5 minutes)

Once I got both groups sharing their findings by asking them to think about:
” What hypothesis can you make?” and let them reflect and answer back for a couple of minutes up to 5 mins.

Notes: At this stage something wonderful happened. People’s ideas started to converge to a common theme, which in this case was “Shared ownership and the importance of cross functionality for the team, to keep growing as a self-organizing system”

Third stage: “Now What”

To finish with this microstructure, I asked participants to reflect upon the following question and some instructions to take into consideration when writing action items:

“Now, What actions make sense?


Be sure that when writing your actionable items, you consider that:

  • To be able to act upon it, items could just be those that the team has control over it.
  • Items become actionable when someone from the team will take ownership to make it happen and there will be a date to follow up on its completion.

Say it with Flowers

Before jumping into the retrospective, I asked one of the must influent team members his opinion about what would help the team the most during the retrospective, and he said that it was about time to get each other some flowers to recognize each others efforts to collaborate together.

Inspired from (Say it with Flowers retrospective exercise), we invited each team member to give someone else a flower (a written note on a post-it) as a token of their appreciation about something someone else did during the sprint that was appreciated.

The result was fantastic, they got busted with positive energy and with three actionable items that came out of the W3 microstructure.

What was liberated?

I felt that team members were able to connect to each other through a common theme without having a lot of effort. It was simple but powerful to reveal that.

What would I do next time?

I would love to do it again to see what happens and I’ll let you know what I have found.

Call to action

Did you find what I wrote appealing and want to see more? Would you like to experience what Liberating Structures look like?

Here some options that I have prepared for you to keep us growing together:

  • Join my upcoming Liberating Structures Half Day Workshop.
  • Help me be at my best by providing me with constructive feedback.
  • Support my writing by: getting a copy of my book Forming Agile Teams, encourage me to start writing the second workbook of the Agile teams from forming to performing series called “Storming Agile Teams” or get a copy of one of minibooks (Lift off Agile Teams – The team’s transformation process or Agile Teams – Improvement tools and exercises)
  • Share and discuss this post with your colleagues and friends.
  • Be good with yourself, your people and smile 😃 to the world 🌎.

All the best,




  1. Pingback: Inspiring change one Liberating Structure at a time | Jesus Mendez

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