The enduring power of Liberating Structures, online, and outside of meetings

“The silent revolution in the making”…

That’s how I describe Liberating Structures (LS) because its open source nature means it is being unleashed across all continents, sectors, domains, communities and its simplicity helps to quickly get picked up. Great news, considering the amount of meetings and conversations that could do with more freedom, more structure, more balance between freedom and structure, less ego, more co-creation and collaboration…

Now, the natural – or rather the typical – realm of Liberating Structures is that of meetings. It applies to all group configurations that could do with more diversity, innovation, spice, fun, focus etc.

Interestingly, however, Liberating Structures also have an enduring power beyond meetings. They offer a lens that reveals different patterns of interactions, patterns of doing and of being.

Kindly invited to introduce ‘Liberating Structures for online work’ at a recent event organised by the DGroups Foundation, I have gathered some thoughts about what makes LS so interesting and powerful even when it’s not applied to synchronous interactions such as meetings.

Hereby are the key ideas and slides that I will introduce. With 10 minutes given for this, I am not really able to do a typical LS approach (do it and think about it later), as it would really reveal too little about the depth of LS. However I am inviting the audience to review these ideas and to practice with them any time.

The power of LS to liberate our online structures

Liberating Structures help us pay attention to everyone’s intelligence – they sanctify the agency of self-organising groups

Even outside of meetings, we need to keep an eye for inclusion, diversity (for innovation, among others), and everyone’s engagement in whatever brought us together in the first place. Liberating Structures breathe and live this through and through. Many of the LS start with individual reflection, allowing everyone to make up their mind, not just those that are quick to think and talk. And crucially, not paying attention to the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) only. This type of thinking, encapsulated by the principle ‘Include and unleash everyone‘ is a fundamental shift from all vertical structures that we have largely inherited from the industrial age, to this date. It’s time to flatten our world.

Liberating Structures challenge us to go beyond our comfort zone, to fail forward and creatively kill our darlings

The LS principle ‘learn by failing forward‘ is challenging us to try things out, experiment, in small, agile waves. Quick feedback loops, learn and adapt, fail fast and often. In the realm of meetings this means daring to crawl out of the ‘Big 5’ that LS erected themselves against (ie: Presentation, managed discussion, status update, Brainstorming, Open discussion). Outside meetings, Liberating Structures are still challenging us to reflect on ‘what is possible?’, ‘what could we try out differently’? They remind us there is no point in keeping stale and overly comfortable practices… No reason to stay trapped in our rigidity (think Ecocycle Planning).

Embrace ‘safe fail’ rather than ‘fail safe’…

Liberating Structures engage us to cultivate paradox as a source of rich diversity, rather than confusion

As a species we are not particularly inclined to seek confusion, ambiguity, opposition etc. We like things to be harmoniously recognisable and interacting neatly, or not intersecting with one another too much so that everything seems ‘pristine’ – probably a mechanism to cope with the chaos that is in our mind at most times. Keep everything in a separate box again. And yet there is so much value in recognising the fifty shades of grey areas in our life, in accepting that we are not ‘homo economicus’ but ‘homo sociologicus’.

In the Liberating Structures language, this is the territory of ‘Wicked Questions‘. And it’s a secret door to being more mature in our approach, embracing both ends of a spectrum and accepting that, in some mysterious way, these opposites might be combinable for a solution that takes into account a richer diversity.

Or indeed as a Wicked Question: How is it that we welcome and encourage complexity and at the same time we seek simplicity in everything we do?

Liberating Structures invite us to add just enough structure to have more choice

The term ‘Liberating Structures’ is itself a ‘Wicked Question’. It’s about embracing both liberating and structure. We might quickly understand that LS are emphasising freedom, liberation, but actually never without a certain degree of structure, without a certain degree of responsibility in the process. It’s about the ‘Minimum Specifications‘ that make or break what we are focusing on. Getting away with no structure is a recipe for disasters, so what are the non-negotiable minimum specifications that can really deliver? It’s another way of decluttering a la Marie Kondo, just focusing on the minimum to keep to get us to the next level (of harmony, productivity or whatever else we are seeking at a given moment)…

And in an ecocycle planning kind of way, LS invite us also to review our relations and activities dynamically, again to create more choice…

Liberating Structures make space for our whole personality and its quirks to be accepted as it is

Another – and hereby final, though by no means exhaustive – aspect of LS is in inviting our personalities in all our wholesomeness. Liberating Structures are not resorting to our intellectual self only, as too often is the case in the ‘serious’ workplace 😉

Here you are invited to bring your creative self (Drawing together), your emotional self (Heard Seen Respected), your musical and empathetic self (Back to back listening), your kinetic self (Flocking), your theatrical self (improv prototyping), your coaching self (Helping heuristics). Make way for what makes a person, all the different shades of our very own elephant (and we are its seven blind men)… And it is a delight to be able to use these many facets of who we are… It’s also put to good use.

How about some serious business?

Oh, did I mention ‘fun’? Think dancing with your tiny demons, talking with pixies about what you can change about yourself, embracing dystopia with TRIZ, addressing thorny questions with Mad Tea party… with Liberating Structures you are in the middle of serious fun, or fun seriousness, however you prefer looking at it 😉

Because indeed: why should we afford to kill our inner child when instead we can kill our darling ideas? Why should we settle for unimaginative business as usual when we can indulge in some serious transformation, together, while having fun?

How is that all too often, even outside of meetings, we are not giving ourselves the absolute minimum structure that we need and at the same time we are not seeking ways to liberate ourselves from the slavery of ‘office groundhog day’? How is it we are looking forward to this 2021 as the clean slate with a keen heart and at the same time we are trying to build on all the amazing stuff we’ve (also) learned in 2020?

That is a wicked COVID question!

Now here’s for the presentation…

Join us in either of these two upcoming Liberating Structures Immersion workshops:

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