by | September 3, 2014, 6:00am 11

One of the main curriculum points from the Seattle leadership camp was providing peer-to-peer feedback. I’d originally imagined this to include the introduction of some prompts and techniques for providing feedback in a positive way. We did cover these items, but as things fell out, we ended up spending a lot more time focusing on what we called a Micro-Posse. (More on the name later.) The essence of a Micro-Posse is a group of three to six teammates who are designated to provide feedback to each other. We were exposed to these ideas through Alyssa Weatherford and Reid Koss who shared the small group techniques that both Riot and Sockeye* use and immediately it made sense to employ that structure for the rest of camp. We used our Micro-Posses to provide peer-to-peer feedback and provide a venue for small group discussion.

Sockeye’s small groups, called Hate Posses, focus on goal setting, analysis and feedback. Sockeye will often provide space for Posse meetings by cooling down together. That time can be used for something as simple as a check-in or could be more targeted, looking specifically at a team or individual goal. It also came up in the course of Riot’s work that creating in-practice time to meet was essential. Everyone is present and committed at practice; expecting these kinds of groups to operate outside of practice is facilitating failure.

Riot’s groups, called Micro Communities, function in a similar way and with similar goals. Given the name, it’s not surprising that Riot does community building work with their Micro Community, often having internal competitions that pit the communities against each other. But the coolest thing I heard about is called hot-seat feedback. The person on the hot seat can open with a self assessment and then the rest of the group takes over. Taking turns, each member of the Micro Community delivers a positive and a delta. The person in the hot seat is forbidden to reply or question until the entire group has gone. At the end of the weekend, Reid, Alyssa and I did hot seat feedback about the week of camp. I’d been puzzling all week over something I called mecro, which is the implementation piece between the macro (big picture stuff) and the micro (the details). I’m generally a macro guy, but I’m also pretty good once things get down to the nitty-gritty; it’s the in between stuff, the mecro, that causes me so much trouble. Both Reid and Alyssa had the same delta for me – that I’ve got to communicate better – and I had a little aha! Communicating the big picture I’ve built in my head will help bridge the gap for other people. Better communicating could help cure my mecro woes. Would I have figured this out on my own? Probably not.

The language around these groups is really important in shaping people’s expectations and experience. The campers had an immediate negative reaction to the name Hate Posse that took me by surprise. I had recognized ‘Hate’ as a classic example of Sockeye’s joking, cavalier exterior. In a brilliant twist, the name makes the groups lighter (the name is a joke) and heavier at the same time (you’re prepared for hard words). Riot’s choice of Micro Community also communicates a message to the team about the essential nature of the group – community conveys trust and unity above all. Even something as subtle as ‘delta’ makes a difference. I usually cringe when I hear a ‘good’ comment paired with ‘something you could do better’, but as a math nerd, I liked the idea of a delta with its implication of change.

Returning to Seattle leadership camp, we decided we wanted to form small groups to use for the remainder of the weekend and we needed a name: Micro-Posse was the obvious choice. (Hate-Community was a distant second.)

*Thanks to those two teams for their willingness to make the process public. Any mistakes in describing their process are due to my faulty memory.

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  • You may prefer your mecro- coinage, but a prefix already in use for intermediate scale is meso- (Greek for middle). The term mesoscale is often used in physics and meteorology.

    • Burruss

      Thanks! I wouldn't have figured that out on my own either…

  • Great idea and I'm glad you're focusing on these kinds of team-building practices.
    I'm thinking about how I might adapt this micro-posse idea to enhance team-building amongst upper-elementary/middle-school players. The challenge I see is three-fold –
    1) teaching tweenagers to provide specific positive feedback (not just "that was baaad"),
    2) keeping the deltas constructive and not overly harsh – maybe the formulation could be something like, "When (describe specific situation), maybe you could try to ______."
    3) I have some verbal players who I think will have no problem with this, but I have some really quiet ones who I think might struggle with it.
    But teaching these feedback skills is something I believe is even more important than sports.

    • Burruss

      I am 100% on the specific positive feedback. When we talked with the high school age campers, a lot of them had been exposed to the positive-then-negative format for feedback already. The problem they had was that the positive was usually cursory and vague followed immediately by a very targeted negative. They felt like the positive in this situation was really disingenuous. My gut tells me (I work mostly with 8th graders) to be begin with only specific positives. There are a lot of modelling activities you can do (like fishbowls) that will help get things going in the direction you want. As a last note, I actually think this will really help the quiet kids – they will be in a much smaller setting and with a more specific direction.

      Good luck and I'm 1000% with you about what is important.

      • Gwen Ambler

        Riot has talked about using "I statements" to help feedback stay specific for both pluses and deltas.

        A bonus while giving deltas is that "I statements" can help avoid coming across as accusatory. "I had a hard time hearing you as the deep deep" is less likely to trigger a defensive response than "You need to communicate more as the deep deep" because it place some responsibility on the part of the speaker for the situation that he/she wants to change.

        "I statements" also help pluses carry more weight. "I get so excited when I see you cutting up-line, because it's really easy to time my deep cuts and I know you're going to hit me if I'm open" helps build connections & trust between teammates more than praise such as, "Your deep looks off of up-line cuts are great."

  • Ráchel Tošnerová

    I would like to introduce the idea to my team but I'm wondering about a couple of things. So… do I let the players pick the groups themselves? Should they consist of same-level players (probably more convenient for goal setting etc.) or should there be one advanced player, one intermediate player and a rookie (more beneficial in terms of always having "a guide")? Any ideas or experience?

    • Gwen Ambler

      The way Riot structures these groups is that each micro-community has one member of our Leadership Committee (either a captain or other strategist). So there is a leader of the group and a conduit back to the LC from each micro-community. As such, each MC is balanced with a combination of skill, personality-type, needs, etc. We've found it is really helpful for team dynamics to have heterogeneous groups – players are exposed and reminded of different experiences and goals of people on the team.

      • Ráchel Tošnerová

        Thanks, Gwen. That answers the second question but I'm still wondering – how did you form the groups originally? Did you let the LC member pick the rest? Or did the LC decide? I appreciate your feedback :)

    • Burruss

      This is a pretty tricky question with advantages and disadvantages in either decision. As you note, an all-rookie group will consist of closer peers and make feedback a bit easier, but they may struggle for lack of experience. An experience-integrated group will have good internal leadership, but it will be harder for the experienced players to receive meaningful feedback. Riot's situation is pretty rare; even their rookies have been team captains and taken teams to college nationals. So even though they are using experienced-integrated groups, the range of experience is much tighter than it would be for a college or high school team. As I was thinking about setting these up at Oregon, my first idea was a group with a senior, a junior, a sophomore and a freshman. But imagine that freshman is new to ultimate and that senior is an U-23 US Team player. There will be a power imbalance there and both sides will have difficulties because of it. The freshman will struggle to assert equality as a teammate and the senior will struggle with a lack of meaningful feedback. However, if you made an all rookie group, how good is the feedback they'll be giving each other?
      I'm not sure there is an easy answer to this one, but my gut tells me the best solution is to go with experience-integrated groups but to openly and continuously address the power imbalance issues. Often, all that is necessary is to make everyone aware that there is a potential issue. There are also some good structural things (like hot-seat feedback) that provide a pathway for everyone to be a leader.

      • Ráchel Tošnerová

        Thanks, Lou. I think we will discuss everything with our version of "LC" and hopefully come up with something that will work for our team (which is technically a club but – as the system works differently here – we have people ages 13 to 40 with the majority of people around 20). Anyway, thanks again for inspiration and I'll be looking forward to more.

      • Nathan

        In the professional world, you see a lot of "integrated product teams" or IPTs. It's a similar concept to what you described with the Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior.

        For example, if we have a manufacturing issue and an IPT meeting gets called… would someone in Contracts or Finance (members on the IPT) really have anything of value to offer to an Operations Program Manager or Manufacturing Engineer?

        At face value, most say no… my experience is, in the end, they add value.

        The problem with experience is that it puts blinders on people. Their views are often warped by what they have previously done. Bringing in those outside voices provides a wide-eyed freshman viewpoint. While they may not directly contribute to the answer or provide it, often times they spur discussion that leads to the answer by asking questions… many of them simply out of their own naivety. I would stress that same dynamic at the team level.

        No matter how new someone is… how fat, how slow, how terrible their forehand is, or how many years removed from potty training they are… we ALL can learn SOMETHING from them. On an Ultimate team, we all see the field differently, interpret differently, sense differently. None of those views are necessarily wrong and any one of them might help you learn more about yourself… as long as you're open to someone brand new to the sport realizing something about your game you didn't realize yourself (hey, why is your toe always pointed in a little before you throw that inside break… huh???).