Mad Tea is boosting. I have seen, experienced and used this Liberation Structure myself many times over the last couple of weeks. It is a dynamic and engaging activity inviting everyone to contribute their surprising thoughts and ideas. The online version (see the original version for in person workshops here) could also be renamed Mad Tea Chat, as the interaction takes place in the chat function. In a Mad Tea Chat, a series of well crafted prompts provoke quick and intuitive reactions from everyone. The harvest can be astonishing.

And there is a wonderful side effect. This activity demonstrates that the chat function is more than a noisy distraction. The chat is a wonderful tool we should integrate, use, play with and explore into our online interactions.

How the Mad Tea Chat works online

You need a video conferencing platform that offers a chat function.

  1. Prepare a series of 6-10 prompts (in line with the purpose & topic of your online session). Write the prompt in capital letters to distinguish prompts easily from answers.
  2. Copy the first prompt and post it in the chat box.
  3. Invite people to finish the prompt with a short sentence. Mention to not overthink the answer but rather reply intuitively.
  4. People type their answer into the chat but wait with hitting the enter button. Ask them to wait till you say ‘GO’, so that everyone simultaneously presses the enter button.
  5. Say ‘GO’ and a series of answers will pop up in the chat.
  6. Ask people to not start reading (there will be time afterwards) but to get ready for the next prompt.
  7. Then repeat the process, post the next prompt, etc.
  8. When all the prompts are answered, give people some time to read silently through the answers and jot down some key words (what strikes me/ pattern I see, things to discuss etc.)
  9. Then reflect together (see below for some options).
  10. Don’t forget to save the chat.

Some Mad Tea prompts we used in the Liberating Structures Workshop in The Hague:

I know I am making a difference when…
I lose track of time and myself when…
The people I serve and care about deeply are…
When I understand my role and purpose in a group, it is possible to…
I get distracted by…
What happens when I assume everyone shares my purpose is…
When a purpose is imposed on me, I…
What people might say if I neglected my highest purpose is…
A competing commitment with my deepest purpose is…
What people might say if I more vigorously pursued my highest purpose is…
What I hope can happen for the people I serve is…
To be more purposeful, one thing I will start doing is…

Mad Tea is ideal and easy to use in small groups (4-12 people). In the Design Team for the Liberating Structures workshop in The Hague (we were 5 people), we have used Mad Tea to get ready (our ideas and aspirations, our fears and worries, our min specs and max specs, etc.) Once we were done, we simply read through the answers and worked with the material directly weaving the ideas into our discussion and planning.

For smaller groups up to 20 people, the result in quantity is obviously different. There is more to digest. It is still doable to answer the prompts and have a look at the answers (see 8). You might want to use 1-2-4-all, or an  Impromptu Networking or a Conversation Cafe or a Flipchart Chat to work with the material.

For larger groups of 50 or more, the process is a bit different as the result in quantity can be overwhelming when 50 answers are popping up in the chat. A simple reading through and picking some inspiration is difficult. It might be interesting to work with the valuable material in small groups. For each of the prompts you could, for example, create a breakout room, and invite people to dig into the answers: What patterns do they observe? What is surprising, new, bold, revealing. What can they bring back to the whole group to contribute to the ongoing discussion? Depending on prompts and purpose, the Mad Tea could be the starting point of a shared writing process or an evaluation process.

With the big shift to online collaboration we are all witnessing, experiencing, supporting, inspiring and leading, we discover new ways of working and learning online (see  the reflection of Ewen Le Borgne). Liberating Structures is a game changer in the world of online collaboration. With Liberating Structures we bring interaction online. The Mad Tea Chat creates a quiet moment and is a welcome change switching from oral to written exchanges.

Curious what Liberating Structures looks and feel like?

Together with Ewen LeBorgne and Ruben Klerkx I will run online taster sessions. We will bring our Liberating Structures Immersion Workshop online; it will take place on July 8 & 9 on Zoom. More information will follow here. Get in touch if you are interested to join.

Also interesting: Liberating Structures for Monitoring & Evaluation specialists, September 3 & 4, in Leiderdrop near The Hague, Netherlands. Download the flyer, get more information.

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