Adapting your tried-and-true methods to work online

One of the activities I enjoy doing with groups is call Mad Tea. It’s one of the Liberating Structures in development and invites people to answer a set of open-ended questions to help shape next steps together.

Rather than answering questions with one person or on your own, the group has an opportunity to meet, listen and engage with a range of people. It’s an opportunity for networking, equalizing any power structures and ultimately revealing knowledge and insights in the room. Put simply, it’s a really fun (and informative) way to share ideas! 

Depending on the purpose of the meeting and exercise, sample prompts that people can finish could include: 

  • What first inspired me in this work is…
  • Something we must learn to live with is…
  • An uncertainty we must creatively adapt to is…
  • What I find challenging in our current situation is…
  • Something we should stop doing is…
  • A big opportunity I see for us is…
  • If we do nothing, the worst thing that can happen for us is…
  • A courageous conversation we are not having is…

With the new normal of online meetings, I decided to try out the technique online for an end of year reflection meeting I was facilitating. It turned out to be a fantastic ice breaker as well as an opportunity for people to let each other know where they were ‘at’ during this difficult moment! 

The online adaptation went something like this: 

  • Ask everyone to finish three sentences that you will put on a PowerPoint or in the chat. Ask people to type their answers however, also tell them not to press return until you queue them to.  
  • Once you know that everyone is ready, all at once, ask everyone to press return and watch the “chatterfall” of responses. 
  • Give people time to scan the chat and then ask for any patterns or insights. 

The three prompts I used were: 

  1. My biggest challenge in 2020 was…
  2. The progress I have made on this challenge is…
  3. The change I can make for 2021 is…

One of the biggest differences from the very loud and chaotic ‘Mad Tea’ that happens in person, is that the activity online takes place in total silence. This adds a different ambience than the in-person version and seemed to be somewhat more reflective and ‘serious’. 

Overall, my experience has been positive. Allowing people to scan and see trends as well as simply know where the team is at this moment is highly informative. The activity encourages authentic expression from everyone. It reminds us of our unique, as well as our similar, struggles and hopes.

As we consider a fourth wave of the pandemic, potentially continued working from home as well as some face-to-face interactions, I wonder how we might adapt this exercise for the hybrid meeting that surely will take place in our futures. Do you have ideas? I would love to hear more! 

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